Building a spilling wall on Decker Creek (a tributary of the Fraser River system) west of Burns Lake, British Columbia

Soil Bioengineering and Biotechnical Slope Stabilization


The term "Bioengineering" causes some confusion, as in recent years it has been appropriated by the biomedical industry. Today for most people it brings to mind genetically modified organisms or mechanical artificial hearts. Early in the 20th century it referred to a group of activities like that pictured above, where living and nonliving materials are used to achieve an engineering goal. In this instance: the construction of a spilling wall to stabilize a creek bank by preventing cutbank erosion.

It is a very broad term encompassing many different techniques. Many of these were refined over thousands of years prior to being actively grouped together under the umbrella of "Bioengineering". Others have been developed more recently as practitioners experiment with new ways to address environmental challenges. Depending upon how it is defined, Bioengineering could include everything from erosion prevention structures like that above; to a living green roof on a building; or a reed bed wetland treating waste water; or plants grown to bioaccumulate heavy metals in order to decontaminate a site (phytoremediation).

For the purposes of riparian restoration, techniques like the spilling wall in the photo (refered to as Soil Bioengineering) are likely to be the most useful, and so will be the focus here. This section is intended more to provide an introduction to Soil Bioengineering and promote understanding, rather than a complete "how to" guide, however many of the methods that will be discussed are simple enough that they could be tried using the descriptions provided.

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