Last fall, ECWA was selected by The Conservation Fund as one of five nonprofit partners across the country to participate in a Growing Greener Foundations through Urban Parks with Purpose program. The initiative is focused on building equity through a park, trail, or water quality project that improves and heals a neighborhood asset chosen by community members.
For this project ECWA is working in an area that is relatively new to us: The Goose Creek Watershed. Goose Creek is a tributary to Ellerbe Creek that runs through downtown East Durham and flows into Ellerbe Creek right behind the waste water treatment plant on East Club Blvd. We are a full year into the Parks with Purpose Project, and we are excited about the relationships ECWA staff and board members have been building with new colleagues in East Durham.
As ECWA historically had very few ties to East Durham, staff reached out to our networks to connect with community members, professionals, and other nonprofits knowledgeable in the area. We held meetings and listening sessions with a focus group, the East Ellerbe Advisory Group. ECWA and these advisors have worked over the past several months to identify the critical steps for moving the project forward. Not controlling nor dictating the sequence of this project, but letting the community take the lead, has been a new, and at times uncomfortable, experience for ECWA. ECWA is consciously choosing to play a supporting role to help develop community leadership on a Goose Creek project.
What have we learned from this process? Issues that matter to Goose Creek watershed residents must guide ECWA’s project identification. They include: flooded playgrounds, school yards, back yards, and homes; lack of jobs; lack of affordable housing; and the “green gentrification” that occurs when new greenways are blazed through old neighborhoods. Recognizing these realities is critical to developing any future partnership opportunities that work for people and the creek.
ECWA has always cared about Durham’s creeks and reducing water quality impacts from development-related stormwater. Learning and working at the neighborhood level is ECWA’s story. ECWA is now bringing that same grass-roots commitment, as well as its water quality expertise, to support community-driven environmental problem-solving in Goose Creek.
The Pearl Mill Branch of South Ellerbe Creek is fed by two major systems of pipes: one drains most of downtown Durham through Central Park, while the other drains Duke East Campus and Trinity Park. During the 1900s, this system was gradually built to carry water rapidly from the many roofs, roads, and streets directly to the creek. The large volumes of water rushing through South Ellerbe at the Pearl Mill Preserve after every big rain have, over time, eroded the banks and deepened the creek to the point where it also acts like one of these large stormwater pipes. Because of how deep it is, the creek can’t flood except in really extreme rain events. So, over time, people have been lulled into developing in the floodplain. Too many people in the floodplain means there’s even greater pressure to stop the stream from flooding. Problem is, streams need to flood on occasion to stay healthy and clean.
So how can we help get out of this cycle of stream destruction?
ECWA has partnered with the City of Durham, Duke Energy, and the City of Raleigh Watershed Protection Program to install a series of bioretention cells along Rand Street, just east of the creek, this winter. A bioretention, much like a rain garden, is a shallow depression that captures stormwater and infiltrates it into the ground. Underneath the plants and mulch, a bioretention contains several layers of sand and gravel. This filters pollutants and nutrients out of stormwater run-off before it flows into a pipe and slowly flows to the creek as clean water.
And that’s not all that ECWA is doing to help heal the creek at Pearl Mill.
In 2018, ECWA purchased the nearby Soles Property with support from the City of Raleigh Watershed Protection Program and a Durham Open Space and Trails Matching Grant. The Strayhorn Branch, which flows into South Ellerbe just north of Green Street, has also eroded down more than three feet! ECWA is in the planning stages of a project to heal Strayhorn Branch. This project will help reinforce the banks, restore a natural riffle-and-pool structure, and reintroduce Strayhorn Branch to its former flood plain in the adjacent woods.
This combination of Creek Smart® projects will make Pearl Mill more inviting to visitors while helping to heal South Ellerbe Creek. Upon completion, these two projects will serve as stops on ECWA’s Creek Smart® tour (www.creeksmart.org) to educate our community and encourage visitors to use similar nature-based solutions to manage stormwater in their own yards, businesses, and neighborhoods.
The Pearl Mill Bioretentions will serve as a filter to clean runoff before it enters the creek.
The Rocks Preserve Stewards Hope Wilder, Vanessa, Finn and Nate of Pathfinder Community School and Joel Ross at their training in March 2018. (The Rocks Preserve Steward Zenki Baston not pictured).
The Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association (ECWA) has always had a strong volunteer force that cares for the organization’s five open-to-the-public nature preserves. As ECWA’s preserves grow, its stewardship program must also grow, and thus a need for volunteers who specialize in taking care of a specific preserve has emerged. So ECWA introduced a new Preserve Stewards Program in 2018 to expand our capacity to address each preserve’s unique needs and to provide a more regular presence on all the public preserves.
Many ECWA volunteers officially became preserve stewards this year, and the Preserve Stewards Program also attracted new volunteers like Hope Wilder and students from Pathfinder Community School. The preserve stewards usually live, work, or attend school near their preserve. After participating in a brief training, they regularly visit and maintain the preserves. These visits include removing trash, restocking dog waste bags, and keeping preserve signs and kiosks up to date. All the stewards report to the ECWA Stewardship Coordinator and assist in leading workdays on their preserves.
Partners of the Preserve Stewards Program
The Preserve Stewards Program officially launched at The Rocks, Pearl Mill, and 17-Acre Wood this spring. In partnership with McAdams Company we were able to launch the program at Beaver Marsh this fall. At Glennstone Preserve, we are in the process of creating a group thanks to support from a Triangle Community Foundation Support for Places: Environmental Conservation Public Benefit Grant. REI Co-op also provided a generous grant to build trails and update preserve communications at Glennstone.
We’re looking for more stewards, so if you live near the Beaver Marsh, 17-Acre Wood, Pearl Mill, or Glennstone Nature Preserve and are interested in becoming a preserve steward, please contact Donna Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org. And the next time you’re on a preserve and see one of those dedicated preserve stewards—they’ll be wearing an ECWA shirt or vest—please tell them thank you!
The streams and creeks that flow out of the City of Durham and into Falls Lake— including Ellerbe Creek—are degraded due to decades of poor stormwater management in our urbanized areas. Many of these problems come from a time before we realized the harm that we were doing to our clean water resources by ditching, straightening, filling, and dumping waste into those streams. We know better now, and the City now invests in ways to comply with the myriad of state and federal requirements to clean up those streams.
But Durham should do more than just comply with rules and laws; we should be trying to make those creeks and streams assets for the community. The City’s expert staff is innovative and efficient. ECWA and American Rivers have been partnering to work with them to use these requirements and our community’s amazing resources as an opportunity to invest in our own community and restore our streams.
ECWA installed a rain garden at our new office space at 2600 West Carver Street, Durham.
We all can help by starting right in our own backyards! Green infrastructure is an approach to water management that uses practices like land protection, rain gardens, permeable pavements, green roofs, rainwater harvesting, and something as simple as allowing your gutter downspouts to empty into your yard rather than the sidewalk or street.
Green infrastructure mimics the natural water cycle through the use of plants and soils or through engineered solutions that recreate natural processes. This approach can be used to help clean up our creeks through planned, widespread implementation, using both public and private investment. It took more than 100 years to degrade our streams, and they won’t be fixed overnight; it is a slow and steady process to return the balance to the system.
ECWA and American Rivers are working together to grow Durham’s stormwater management innovation. In 2018, we hope the City Council and staff will pass a budget that will start the process of: 1) Initiating a code and ordinance review, to assure City rules are not a barrier to stormwater innovation; and 2) developing and launching a formal City cost-share program for the use of green stormwater infrastructure.
Raleigh has recently launched a very successful green stormwater infrastructure strategic plan that incorporates these components into their overall program—Durham can and should do the same. Join one of our Creek Smart Tours to learn more!