Duke to Clean, Restore Stream by East Campus

Project will improve natural conditions, benefit wildlife

Duke will begin an effort May 13 to restore a stream running from the edge of East Campus and connecting to Sandy Creek off Oregon Street.

The project will affect about 3,150 feet of steam, starting by the N.C. Highway 147 bridge on Campus Drive and running southwest. As an accompanying project to Duke's reclamation pond, the stream restoration will help improve the quality of water and vegetation by widening the stream's channel and creating a conservation easement with tree protection area.

The project has been permitted and approved by the City of Durham, US Army Corps of Engineers, North Carolina Division of Water Quality and Durham County.

"Duke has made an ambitious commitment to reduce our carbon footprint, but along with that is an overall commitment to make our campus an example of sustainability in many ways," said Tavey Capps, Duke's sustainability director. "This project illustrates how an institution can contribute to the local community and restore a stream that runs through our grounds briefly but has significant implications for our overall watershed."

Doris B. Jordan
A map of the stream on Duke property that will be restored. Click to enlarge.

The stream restoration is expected to last up to five months and another two months will be needed to plant partially-grown trees and shrubs, including eight different oak tree varieties, American holly bushes and more. Once completed, a 50-feet buffer will be established on all sides of the stream to provide for natural landscaping and wildlife to flourish.

While work on the project may be visible to neighboring properties, clearing of any trees or shrubs will be done to Duke-owned land and won't affect vegetation on adjacent land. During the stream restoration, crews won't come any closer than 120 feet to other properties, said Angela Gardner, project engineer with EcoEngineering, the firm helping plan the stream restoration with Facilities.

During the restoration, crews will stabilize soil and replant any areas where vegetation must be removed. Gardner said vegetation will return to density about three years after completion of the stream restoration.

The key for the project will be creating a more winding path for water to flow, which will minimize soil erosion and offer small pooling areas for wildlife like fish to live. The stream's narrow and deep bed will become shallower and wider, allowing for the earth immediately surrounding the flowing water to better trap any runoff.

Gardner said changes will improve water quality by allowing for a constant speed of water flow and allow for more nutrients from soil and water to be shared among plants. She likened the changes to the health of a human, who considers things like height, weight, cholesterol levels and more in order to achieve wellness.

"There are ratios such as the width of the stream compared to the depth of a stream, or the slope of a steam compared to the length of a stream that need to be fixed to push that stream toward a `healthy' state," she said. "The goal of the restoration project is to restore ecological health to the stream, which will reduce erosion and pollutant levels as well as improve vegetative communities."

The stream restoration project will also overlap with Duke's ongoing Stream and Wetland Assessment Management Park project. Both projects are tied in their effort to improve local water stability, said Curtis J. Richardson, director of the center and professor of resource ecology at Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment.

"Both these projects help our watershed and that's where we get the most bang for our buck," Richardson said. "It's a big plus for the university and Durham."