University of Illinois Extension

Building a Stream Table

To see how a stream table works, visit River Basics at:

General Model Stream Materials List

(Additional or fewer parts may be needed, if building plans are changed)
Total cost approximately $300 


4’ x 8’ 5/8" exterior plywood


8’ x 2" x 6" pine boards (untreated) These boards must be sound – any loose knots or cracks will allow leaks when the box is in use.

1 each

PVC cleaning compound and PVC sealant

1 cartridge

Caulking type liquid glue

1 pound

#6 x 2" dry wall screws


100 foot outdoor use electric extension cord (optional)


15’ length of 1 1/2" PVC pipe


10 gallon plastic feed tub for reservoir


3 gallon heavy duty bucket for filter bucket


Large plastic bucket for carrying water (optional)


3/10 HP electric sump pump


¾ inch threaded PVC connector


right angle elbows to fit PVC pipe


¾" water valve that would attach to male end of garden hose


5/8" pipe straps


8’ section of flexible garden hose (will be cut)

4 sq ft

Window screening for filtering sand

1 each

Male and female garden hose ends


Boat drain plugs


Automotive jack stands. Two of these should be the notched type, which allow fine adjustment of box slope. Alternately, small wood shims can be used to adjust elevation.

1 gallon

Polyurethane paint (boat paint would be best)

1 cartridge

Clear silicone sealant


Plastic grain scoops for moving sand (these are available at farm supply sores)


Outdoor use multiple outlet power strip with on/off switch.

100 pounds

Sand - we used plastic sand, and our distributor is.

Composition Material Inc., 1375 Kings Highway, Fairfield CT 06430
Ph: 203/384-6111


50’ garden hose to fill reservoir (optional)

Building the Stream Table

(Refer to pictures of stream table as an additional guide)

  1. Miter cut two sections of 2" x 6" to fit flush with the ends of the plywood. Miter cut two sections of 2" x 6" to form the table sides. Miter all ends 45 degrees. Join together to form ends and sides of table, using wood screws and liquid nails. Attach to plywood by aligning sides, applying liquid nails to the edge that will attach to the plywood, and drilling wood screws through the bottom of the plywood into the 2" x 6"s. The box must be carefully built so that it will be waterproof when finished.
  2. Apply sealant to inside of all seams.
  3. Using a 2" hole saw, drill the drain hole on one end of the table bottom.
  4. Place PVC adapter into hole, and apply sealant on outside of adapter where it contacts the wood. For higher water retention, place additional adapters into existing adapter. (A removable piece of PVC may be used in place of using a permanent fixture.)

  5. Using properly sized hole saw, drill two holes for placing drain plugs. Each hole should be approximately 4 inches from the corners of the stream table, on the same end as the main drain hole. (This step may be skipped if using removable PVC in the main drain hole.)

  6. Apply at least 3 coats of paint to the box (may need to be repainted every other year).
  7. When using table, use jack stands to support table. (Other methods of support may be used, such as a boat trailer or sawhorse, depending on your needs. The boat trailer allos the stream table to be mobile so it can go from location to location.) Place table on slight slope so that water will flow from outlet end to drain.

Instructions for Building Pump and Reservoir System

( Refer to pictures for additional guidance) Many modifications can be made, based on your needs.

  1. Place ¾" male threaded PVC connector to shutoff valve. This will be attached to the stream table in a later step.

  2. Cut ¾" PVC pipe to fit inside dimensions of table and join to right angle elbows as illustrated.

  3. Clean ends of PVC where connections will be made. Apply sealant and attach elbows as illustrated. Attach threaded PVC connector to rest of pipe, so that it will sit on top edge of stream table as shown.
  4. Using ¾" pipe straps, place pipe on box sides near the top edge as shown in pictures.
  5. Place sand at end of table where water will outlet out of pipe.
  6. Cut 3 foot section of flexible garden hose. Where needed, attach male and or female hose connections (need one of each).
  7. Attach male end of hose to shutoff valve.
  8. Attach female hose connector to the sump pump
  9. Drill several ½" holes in the side of the filter bucket.
  10. Cut a square of window screening that is large enough to cover all the holes. Glue in place inside the bucket using lots of silicone sealant.
  11. Place filter bucket under drain to collect sand that goes through drain.
  12. Place sump pump inside 10 gallon feed tub
  13. Fill reservoir tub three-fourths full of water.
  14. Attach outdoor use power strip to sump pump. Make sure the switch is off.
  15. Plug power strip to an extension cord or power outlet. Check valve to make sure it is at least partially open, then turn switch on power strip on.
  16. Adjust flow using valve to desired flow. Check for leaks.

Streambank Table Presentation - General Outline


  • How are rivers and stream used?
    • Water supply, wildlife, recreation, electricity, transportation
    • Management of rivers must look at interactions of all used
  • Why are rivers an important transportation link?
    • Economical way to transport bulk materials (coal, grain)

River/Stream formation

  • Illinois streams
    • Many formed after the last glaciation approximately 10-12,000 years age.
    • Glacier destroyed previous stream system (Mississippi River was in present location of lower Illinois River).
  • River formation
    • Small areas of surface runoff will concentrate into small streams.
    • These streams will flow together into larger streams and rivers.
    • Rivers and streams will form along lowest possible course.
    • River will start out narrow, and widen and deepen over time.
    • Formation of delta, floodplain, meanders.
  • Delta
    • Channel will sway back and forth across delta.
    • Side channels (distributaries) evident
    • Delta forms due to slowing of water, causing sediment deposition.
  • Floodplain
    • Low lying, flat area formed next to stream/river channel.
    • Will have water flow during high water events.
  • Meanders
    • Curves will form naturally in rivers and streams, especially if area is fairly flat
    • Natures way of slowing water down, decreasing erosion potential.
    • Flow through curve will erode on outside of curve (where fastest flow is), will deposition occurring on inside of channel.
    • Flow moves through curve like a corkscrew.


  • Created by artifically straightening channel
    • Increases water speed
    • Lack of vegetation on banks create severe erosion potential
    • Nature will slow speed of water by creating curves, reverting to more natural channel.

Natural Channel Changes

  • Occurs over thousands of years
    • Curves become too big, water moves too slowly- creates “out of balance" condition in that section of stream
    • River re-creates equilibrium by cutting out curve- short-cutting channel
    • Oxbow or Horseshoe lake formed

Levees and Dams

  • Dam is for holding back water all the time (pond, lake).
  • Levee is for holding back water from floodplain during high water events.
  • Dam constructed with heavy clay.
  • Levee constructed with material dredged from river (clay, silt, sand).
  • During prolonged floods, levee can fail (starting on the side opposite from the stream). from water seepage.

Surface Runoff

  • More runoff occurs today in rural and urban areas because of:
    • More areas where rain can’t soak into the ground (parking lots, roads, buildings, increase in underground drainage tiles).
    • Change in vegetation (lawns and field crops instead of prairie grasses or trees).
  • More runoff means more water, and faster streams, which in turn creates
    • Increased streambank erosion.
    • More sedimentation in streams in lakes.

Ways to Reduce Streambank Erosion

  • Planting of trees along a stream bank.
  • Use of other structural conservation practices that divert the fast water away from the outside curve to more of the center of the stream.
  • Planting of grasses, trees and shrubs just outside of the stream bank to slow water before it enters the stream.
  • Use of large rock (rip rap) to control erosion- used in urban areas next to high value areas.

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