By Joel Lev-Tov
For The Diamondback
The Campus Creek at the University of Maryland, instead of providing a healthy ecosystem and serving as a home to aquatic animals, is home to water bottles and algae.
Now, the university is fully restoring the creek, and experts said the restoration could again provide a healthy habitat for aquatic life and help clean the Chesapeake Bay.
“There’s debris in the stream bed, there was stuff like miscellaneous pieces of pipe and chain link fence, so it was actually pretty dangerous,” said Christopher Ho, a civil engineer involved with the restoration project. “The water was murky brown once it rained. All that sediment from those banks just continually washed away and down the stream down into the Paint Branch. It was a mess.”
The university has been studying restoration for more than ten years, Ho said. Currently, the university is in the design stage of Phase 2, which will restore the stretch from the public health school all the way to the Paint Branch stream near the University View.
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The second phase of the restoration is funded through combined grants from the Chesapeake Bay Trust, the Sustainability Fund and the Student Facilities Fund totaling $345,000, according to a statement from Katie Stouffs Grimes, the program director of strategic communications for Facilities Management at this university.
Pending funding, the university could start renovating as soon as fall 2022, according to the statement.
Grimes wrote in an email that the phased approach allows the university to analyze the work it did in the first phase as it develops plans for the second phase.
In 2019, the university finished the first phase of the creek’s restoration, which ran from University Boulevard to the public health school.
“We got the worst part done first, and then we always figured we could come back and do the second part,” said Kris Phillips, the director of facilities planning at this university.
Once the full restoration is complete, Michael Williams, an associate research professor at this university, will monitor the restoration to see if the restoration was successful at least through summer 2022, he said. He will analyze the amount of water and take samples during and between storms to determine nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment load reductions.
During rainstorms and floods, water cascades off the impermeable surfaces — surfaces that can’t absorb water such as parking lots and roofs on the campus — and rushes into the creek, eroding it, said Thomas Jordan, a senior scientist at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center.
The water brings pollutants such as nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment that can negatively impact water quality, Williams said.
The restoration project aims to bring the creek back to a healthy habitat and recreate a functioning ecosystem.
“It’s all about restoring it to a natural state,” Phillips said. “It’s going back to nature and how this bubbling little creek would appear 100 years ago.”
This approach is called regenerative stormwater conveyance. It focuses on creating the conditions for the creek to heal itself, Williams wrote in an email.
The restoration will install step pools for water to cascade into, Williams wrote. Between downpours, the pools will slowly drain into the creek, preventing erosion and reducing the nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment.
It will also raise the stream bed, allowing the creek to overflow during a storm and let it settle out along the flood plain.
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While a goal is to restore a habitat for aquatic animals, it is unclear if it will succeed — some studies have shown invertebrates do not return, Jordan said. Reasons may include high electrical conductivity of the stream due to road salt applications, Williams wrote.
Jordan said Campus Creek’s restoration is important because of the possibility to judge its effectiveness. Unlike many other restorations, there is funding to analyze the before and after.
“It’s kind of rare to have a before and after,” he said. “That’s really important to get a good handle on what’s going on.”
Campus Creek’s restoration could help the Chesapeake Bay become slightly healthier, Jordan said. The bay, which the creek ultimately flows into, has a set amount of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment it can take in every day.
All jurisdictions whose waterways flow into the bay are reducing the amount of pollutants they contribute by 2025 to ensure the total daily maximum load of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment — the bay’s “nutrient and sediment diet” — isn’t exceeded, Jordan said.
“There is a very big picture here,” Jordan said. “Every acre of watershed can be important. It all adds up.”
CORRECTION: Due to a reporting error, a previous version of this story identified Katie Stouffs Grimes as a university spokesperson. She is the program director of strategic communications for Facilities Management at this university. This story has been updated.