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Head Cut

Posted on February 2nd, 2013

As I continue to work towards the north, and the elevation falls from the ridge top to the flood plain, I am exposing a couple of head cuts that have formed over the years.  These head cuts were likely initiated as a result of the increase run-off originating from row cropped field at the upland.  The increase in run off from the field resulted in channel erosion during storm water runoff.  Eventually, the channel erosion formed small plunge pools that resulted in increased erosion, deepen and widening of the channel.  Eventually, these channel instabilities begin to migrate upstream as the erosion potential increased, forming a head cut.  Hopefully, with a little repair/mitigation work and our conversion of the agricultural land to a tall grass prairie, the head cuts will eventually heal or at a minimum stabilize.

As was common practice over the past century throughout the midwest, head cut control was often managed by dumping unwanted farm and household items in the head cut.  Although, not an optimal solution by today’s standards, this method often times served its purpose.  Below is a photo of an existing head cut that had been stabilized with an assortment of items including:  barrels, sheet metal, a water heater, wire fencing, plow shares, a vehicle axle, a toilet, and quite a collection of glassware.  Some of the more fun items include an old saddle, bottles from the prohibition era, a nice juicer and a few perfume bottles.  I am still in the process of removing all of the materials, junk will go to the landfill, metal to scrap metal yard for re-use, and the juicer and bottles come home with me.

Common approach to head cut control

Common approach to head cut control

A little further downhill from the ‘controlled’ head cut, is a more developed and uncontrolled head cut.  This head cut is approximately 8 to 10 feet wide and 6 feet deep.  There are some tree roots  that are limiting the lateral and upstream progression, although left unmitigated, this cut will continue to advance uphill.

Headcut d:s2

Looking downstream at head cut

Lateral view of head cut, notice exposed tree roots

Lateral view of head cut, notice exposed tree roots

My approach to head cut control follows suggestions by others, I am placing larger logs along the bottom ditch with a slight downstream offset.  This allows for a space just uphill from the log pile, at the plunge pool of the head cut, to be filled with finer materials.  This space will be filled with leaves, grasses, and/or branches.  In professional head cut repairs, the logs are often wired together and the plunge pool is filled with bales of straw.  I think my approach will work fine, but I will have to monitor its performance this spring to ensure that the head cut has stabilized and the finer organic material has remained in the plunge pool area.

Looking downstream at mitigated head cut

Looking downstream at mitigated head cut

Lateral view of log-filled head cut

Lateral view of log-filled head cut

The above photographs show the filled head cut.  I was able to use several elm and ironwood trees removed during the timber stand improvement work as fill materials.  The ‘looking downstream’ photo shows the timber stand work to the right, unmodified timber to the left.  The plunge pool has not been filled at the time of the photographs, I plan to fill it during my next outing.  I will post again later this year with reports of success or failure.

 

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