Ball Creek Water Quality Improvement Project:  What A Difference!

Recent improvement work on Ball Creek included re-grading, placing more than 760 tons of stone along about 250 feet of eroding stream bank, creating stream bed rock riffles, and planting 500 willow and dogwood plantings. Photo by Claire Quadri

What a difference a few weeks can make!

My first visit to the Ball Creek Preserve was on a bright, warm October day, when the oranges, maroons, and golds of the fall leaves were still in full display. One of the most accessible of the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy’s nature preserves, the Ball Creek Preserve is located at the intersection of Route 86 and Route 394 in North Harmony. In contrast to the bright fall landscape, the southern creek bank was a three-foot tall eroded wall of exposed crumbling brown soil, an obvious source of sediment to the stream and nearby Chautauqua Lake. The top of the bank was covered with mugwort, a pleasantly fragrant but unpleasantly invasive plant which thrives on sites that were previously cleared and left fallow. There were no trees, shrubs or other plants with root systems sufficient to secure or stabilize the soils, and the stream bank was predictably giving way to the slow and steady power of flowing water carrying the sediment load to Chautauqua Lake.

Fortunately, improvements to this section of Ball Creek were to begin shortly after my visit. This section of Ball Creek was identified as a significant source of sediment load flowing to Chautauqua Lake, and a New York State Water Quality Improvement Program (WQIP) grant was awarded to remedy the erosion and sedimentation.

A few weeks later, on a sunny day in early December, I again visited Ball Creek. The eroding stream bank (about 250 feet) was now sloped back and protected with over 760 tons of large stone rip-rap. The water gurgled as it flowed over additional rock installed across a shallow section of the creek bed. These engineered rock “riffles” cause water agitation which will provide additional oxygen support insects, fish and other organisms. About 500 newly planted yellow-green willow and red dogwood cuttings poked from the soils at the top of the protected bank – plantings that will grow quickly, providing root systems to hold soils in place as well as overhead branches and leaves to shade and cool the waters below.

This project is almost complete – but not quite. At this time, seeding and mulching is underway on the areas disturbed by heavy equipment during construction, with the goal of establishing native species to replace the mugwort and other invasive plants. This effort will continue in the spring and summer as well. The new native plantings will provide a natural buffer at the stream’s edge, limiting the flow of sediment and pollutants picked by rainwater flowing over the ground.

To see before and after photos of this streambank improvement and a short video (“Skipping Stones on the Improved Ball Creek”), visit the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy’s Facebook page at

This project is the fourth Chautauqua Lake sedimentation prevention project completed on a Chautauqua Lake tributary supported by the WQIP program. Three additional projects are slated for completion in 2018. The partners on these WQIP projects are Chautauqua County, the Chautauqua Lake and Watershed Management Alliance, Chautauqua County Soil & Water Conservation District and the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy.

Funding for this project was provided in part by the Environmental Protection Fund as administered by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Chautauqua County, through a share of its Occupancy Tax Program and reallocated Chautauqua Lake Management Commission (CLMC) capital funds, provided the local match funds for this project.

The Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy is a local not-for-profit organization that is dedicated to preserving and enhancing the water quality, scenic beauty and ecological health of the lakes, streams, wetlands and watersheds of the Chautauqua region. For more information, call 664-2166 or visit or www.facebook .com/chautauquawatershed.