Skip Navigation

Stabilizing Irrigation Reservoir Slopes with 'Halifax' Maidencane

Irrigation reservoirs are used to store water for agricultural practices.  They are constructed to meet cropland water demands as ground water sources decrease.  Shoreline erosion is a critical issue when it occurs in reservoirs.  Wave action and water level fluctuation cause soil loss on unprotected banks.  The soil is deposited into the reservoir, reducing its water holding capacity and water quality.  Using native vegetation with the capability of growing in fluctuating water levels to prevent soil loss and stabilize reservoir shorelines is a feasible solution.

‘Halifax’ maidencane (Panicum hemitomon) was released in 1974 by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Jamie L. Whitten Plant Materials Center (PMC), Coffeeville, MS in cooperation with the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station.  Maidencane is a native warm season perennial grass that grows from 2-3 feet tall.  It is aquatic to semi-aquatic and rarely produces viable seed.  It can be found as a protective vegetative barrier on stream banks and in shallow water areas in the Southeast.  Halifax originated from a native stand of maidencane collected near Halifax, North Carolina.  It was selected for its cold tolerance, rapid spread, and vigorous growth, and has performed well throughout the southeast U.S.

In 2013, the Booneville, Arkansas PMC Second image of a demonstration planting showing areas with soil erosion where maidencane failed to establish planted rhizomes of Halifax at the high-water level of a new 40-acre irrigation reservoir located near Lonoke, AR for slope stabilization.  Reservoir construction left bare slopes and areas of compacted subsoil exposed.  When evaluated the following year, Halifax maidencane established well overall but did poorly in areas with compacted subsoil.  Where maidencane’s dense matrix of roots and rhizomes established there was no soil erosion along the slopes.  Areas that did not have maidencane established had eroded slopes.  In a 2020 evaluation of the site, maidencane covered 40 percent of the reservoir’s shoreline and was doing an excellent job of controlling soil erosion.  Areas of shoreline without maidencane were highly eroded. 

This trial shows the importance of site preparation, in this case reducing compacted soils on the slopes of irrigation reservoirs, to ensure the establishment of vegetation.  Fortunately, rhizomes from established maidencane plants can be easily dug and transplanted along other areas of the reservoir shoreline that are favorable for planting.

Halifax maidencane provides excellent protection for freshwater shorelines once established as seen in Lonoke.  Stabilized shorelines are critical to the longevity of the reservoir and water quality for the wildlife that utilize these areas.  For more information on results of this study, or the use of Halifax, contact Aaron Pettit (aaron.pettit@usda.gov), PMC Manager at Booneville Arkansas.