By Jordan Thomas, ECWA Communications and Outreach Coordinator
Pearl Mill Nature Preserve, Caroline Gilmore
In a rapidly developing city like Durham, it’s important to explore the relationship between urban nature and water quality. The Strayhorn Branch Stream Enhancement is a part of ECWA’s effort to improve water quality in an urban environment. Let’s dive into how development with sustainability in mind can improve the quality of our urban creeks and streams.
1. Water Filtration
Impervious surfaces like sidewalks, driveways, and roads contribute to increased pollution of the creek and its streams. Stormwater runoff picks up pollutants from these surfaces and flows into Durham’s waterways. Installing green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) (e.g., rain gardens, green roofs, permeable pavements) helps to naturally filter some of the pollutants from the water before it enters the creek.
2. Stormwater Management
Impervious surfaces not only provide an opportunity for stormwater runoff to pick up pollutants that contaminate the ecosystem of the creek, they also increase flooding. Stormwater runoff flows much faster on impervious surfaces since the water is not being absorbed into the earth. The Strayhorn Branch Stream Enhancement will change the shape of the stream banks, expanding the capacity for the stream to hold floodwaters. Ensuring urban streams have safe places for water to spill into the floodplain means flood waters can be held in natural areas, instead of flooding streets or homes.
3. Biodiversity Support
Utilizing green space and incorporating sustainable practices into development allows us to foster diverse ecosystems that are suitable habitats for plants, insects, birds, and other wildlife. These species are a great way to measure water quality. They also help stabilize soil which prevents erosion and further contamination of the creek. Planting native plants around the creek to stabilize the soil is an important part of the Strayhorn Branch Stream Enhancement.
Urban nature plays a critical role in maintaining and improving the water quality of Ellerbe Creek. Using innovative and evidence-based green practices in future development is important to the health of the creek and of our communities. Creek restoration efforts like the Strayhorn Branch Stream Enhancement are a great example of how we can continue to have a positive impact on the nature around us.
ECWA's vision is a living creek connecting human and natural communities in Durham. Through land acquisition, collaboration with the city, and public education, we hope to create a Durham where residents can bike or walk across the watershed and stop at local businesses and nature preserves along the way.