By Jordan Thomas, ECWA Communications and Outreach Coordinator
In a city that is rapidly developing, restoring our natural environments is just as important as preserving them. And, as an organization that takes our commitment to inclusive and sustainable stewardship seriously, we’re on a mission to increase the accessibility of nature throughout the Ellerbe Creek watershed. That means protecting the nature that’s still here and restoring the nature in areas where it’s almost gone.
The Strayhorn Branch Stream Enhancement project is working to restore the extremely eroded Strayhorn Branch of Ellerbe Creek. By stabilizing the stream banks and creating in-stream riffles, we will reduce erosion and slow the water’s flow. This will make the stream cleaner and healthier for wildlife. We want to take you behind the scenes of this project so that you can see the improvements being made for yourself.
The Strayhorn Branch is a 500-foot stretch of stream of Ellerbe Creek that's right in the middle of an urban neighborhood. The construction site for the stream enhancement is located in ECWA’s Pearl Mill Nature Preserve, across the street from the Pearl Mill Bioretention Area. Strayhorn Branch is a degraded and eroded stream due to high stormwater flows. This stormwater moves sediment and pollution into the stream making it not suitable for wildlife.
The stream enhancement project is will work on four critical tasks:
Construction at the site started with addressing the issue of water flow. To do this, the workers added "in-stream riffles" that mimic the natural flow of creeks and streams. The shape of the stream also needed to be re-shaped so that water flow would be improved. Because of this, construction included digging out the stream to give it the natural "U"- shape.
Now in the planting phase, the Strayhorn Branch Stream Enhancement project is undergoing a profound makeover. Laura Stroud, ECWA Water Management Program Director, has been leading this project. For projects like this to succeed, Laura understands that engaging the community is essential. Recently, Laura gave a neighborhood leader a personal tour of the project, highlighting its goals, challenges, and potential. Through learning about the project on an individual level, the neighbor described the project as a "gift."
In the future, this restored stream will be a space where humans and wildlife have easy access to an oasis of nature in an urban environment. Increased biodiversity in the stream will attract a variety of native wildlife including pollinators! The stream will also be visually appealing and provide preserve visitors a place where they can comfortably enjoy the nature around them. The Strayhorn Branch Stream Enhancement is a remarkable journey of environmental stewardship, community pride, and the rekindling of a once-neglected natural treasure.
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.