The Echota Bend project was the first real stream restoration job I did.  Echota Bend is a major bend of the Illinois River just north of highway 62 near Tahlequah in Cherokee County, Oklahoma.  The Illinois River is an Oklahoma Scenic River and the Echota Bend was eroding at the rate of 10 ft/yr.  With 15’—20’ high banks, it is estimated that approximately 200,000 cuyd of material has been lost from this site since 1938.

Estimates to rip rap the bank averaged around $250,00.  John Hassell, then the director of the Oklahoma Conservation Commission Water Quality Division (OCCWQ),  wanted to try something different.

We did.  I designed a channel layout based on the principals of fluvial geomorphology.  On May 5 (Cinco de Mayo), 1997 we started construction on the Echota Bend Bank Stabilization Project. 

I cannot adequately describe the emotions I felt when we diverted THE Scenic River in Oklahoma and started bull dozing trees where the new channel was going to be.   Once we got the channel roughly shaped we started building rock vanes and installing root wads.

“Serious problems cannot be dealt with at the level of thinking that created them.”  Albert Einstein

Phone: 405-620-2004


Diverting the Illinois River.

Cutting a path for the new channel.

Installing a root wad.

Constructing a rock vane.

Part way through construction Ed Fite, of the Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission, flew over the site and took some pictures.  You can see where we diverted the river to (left), where the river was (middle), and where we put are putting it (right).  It was an incredible project and a lot of fun.

A lot of people were involved in the planning phase of the project; John, Dan Butler and OCCWQ, Otis Bennett and the Cherokee County Conservation District (CCCD), Ed and the Oklahoma Secenic Rivers Commission, and Rocke, Jay and Randy of the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality (ODEQ) to name a few.

Echota Bend during construction (May, 1997).

The construction crew consisted of Rusty McKee, from Rusty’s River Restoration, Chimney Rock, Colorado, Loyd Smith of Yokum Trucking, Coweta, Oklahoma, Mike Chewey and A.C. Fields of Patton Construction, Tahlequah, Oklahoma and Dan and Troy Leatherman of Tonto Construction, Muskogee, Oklahoma.  Equipment used included three excavators (Cat 320L, JD 590 D with hydraulic thumb, and JD 892DLC with bracket), three dozers (D6H, D7, and D8) and two loaders (Cat 936E and JD544R).  We used 380 tons of boulders and moved 25,000 cuyds of dirt/gravel.  More than 2,500 trees were donated to the project by  Greenleaf Nursery, Midwestern Nursery and Park Hill Nursery.  The planting crew were brave employees of the OSRC and CCCD.

Willow planting by hand.

Willow planting by Backhoe.

Donated trees planted.

Maple planting with tractor and auger.

I had to get involved too.

Canoe, rock vane, root wads and willows.

Construction was completed May 14, 1997 and it was looking good.  Aerial photographs taken a week after the project was completed shows the newly created channel and ox-bow lake.  The ox-bow lake was incorporated partially due to the fact that  Cheryl and Phil, the land-owners, were operating Falcon Floats from the property, and thus needed a way to get the boats out easy.  Cheryl and Phil were happy.  I was happy.  John was happy.  Everybody was happy.  The total cost of construction with all costs figured in, including charges incurred in an attempt to initiate construction in March, was $85,108.99.

Then the rains came.  On June 17, a peak flow exceeding the bankfull discharge of 4,700 cfs occurred.  This event did some minor damage to the channel as the flow began to scour around some of the root wads.  It was clear at this point that some touch-up repair work would be required to prevent the root wad structures from failing.  In January 1998, before repair work could be conducted, the gauge at Highway 62 recorded a flow of 25,700 cfs.  The water level neared the top of the high terrace adjacent to the site .

Downstream looking up.

Hydrograph of gauge at HWY 62.

Illinois River near Tahlequah (USGS 07196500)

Echota 1 | Echota 2 | Echota 3

Echota Bend project location.

Echota Bend, Illinois River — Part 1

Echota Bend, May 21, 1997.

Within a week, a flow of approximately 30,000 cfs, with water flowing over the terrace, went through (and over) the project.  Why this discharge is not shown on the hydrograph is a matter for speculation.  When the water receded, most of the planted trees were gone.  But more importantly, the root wads and the downstream vane were out in the channel.  They had failed.  I was crushed.  Really upset.  The root wads didn’t work.  I was marginally consoled by the facts that the first vane worked, and a few root wads below it held up and the high terrace bank that the project was trying to protect suffered only minor slippage.  John was very supportive.  I told him that I thought if I used more vanes it would work.  He said, “Let’s fix it.”

Echota Bend prior to construction (Feb., 1997).

Trouble after the June 17, 1997 storm.

Flow over the terrace (January, 1998).

Big time trouble after the January, 1998 storm.

The first vane did well (January, 1998).

Echota Bend welcoming sign.

To see the rest of this story go to Echota 2.


1504 Ann Arbor Drive

Norman, Oklahoma 73069-5363

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Phone: 405-620-2004


“The mark of a successful man is one that has spent an entire day on the bank of a river without feeling guilty about it.”        Chinese Philosopher

“The song of the river ends not at her banks but in the hearts of those who have loved her.”

                                 Buffalo Joe

Echota 1

Echota 2

Echota 3