As an urban watershed, Ellerbe Creek faces unique challenges. Of our watershed’s 37 square miles, more than half are within Durham’s city limits. That means the water flowing into our creeks is first running through developed land occupied by buildings, parking lots, and roads.
The goal of our land protection work is to minimize the damage done to our streams as a result of that development. Specifically, we aim to prevent the development of the wetlands and forested buffers along the main channel of Ellerbe Creek and its tributaries. Natural buffers are essential to creek protection as they improve water quality, store floodwaters, prevent pollutants from entering the stream, and serve as wildlife habitat. Also, protected lands become green open spaces for people to be outdoors.
To date, we have protected over 450 acres from development. Five of the protected parcels are free and open for everyone to visit and enjoy.
We depend on willing landowners who voluntarily sell priority conservation properties or easements, which are then protected forever. Partners, like the Upper Neuse River Clean Water Initiative, Triangle Community Foundation, Clean Water Management Trust Fund, and Durham’s Open Space and Trails Commission, help provide the funding that helps us purchase these important lands.
ECWA’s Land Stewardship Committee creates management plans to restore the natural habitat and watershed function of our protected lands. With the help of volunteers, our preserve stewards work to restore the habitat and build trails so that the public can enjoy the nature in their neighborhood.
The City or County of Durham and the US Army Corps of Engineers owns a significant portion of the land that is a priority for protection in the watershed. We are working closely with the city and county governments to place conservation easements, conservation zoning, or other permanent protections on these publicly-owned creekside lands.
ECWA's Land Protection Program and the NC Natural Heritage Program proposed that the City of Durham permanently protect City-owned land known as the heron rookery. Under the proposed agreement, the City of Durham would enter into a conservation easement agreement with the state. The City voted recently in agreement with our proposal to permanently protect this land. The NC Natural Heritage Program and ECWA will support the City as they finalize this process.