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Campus & Community

State Awards $1.7M to Complete Campus Creek Restoration

UMD Project Will Help Manage Campus-Generated Pollutants, Sediment That Flow Into Chesapeake Bay

By Maggie Haslam

Campus Creek

Phase 2 of the restoration of UMD’s Campus Creek will restore nearly 2,300 linear feet of the waterway that feeds into Paint Branch—and ultimately, the Chesapeake Bay—improving both water quality and wildlife habitat.

Photo courtesy of UMD Department of Planning & Construction

A $1.7 million Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) grant will fund the University of Maryland’s continued restoration of Campus Creek and the retrofit of a nearby detention pond.

It’s one of 24 projects statewide supported by the Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays Trust Fund to improve water quality and habitat within the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The UMD work is slated to begin within the next year.

“This project has been a long time coming for the University of Maryland,” said Christopher Ho, a civil engineer for the university Facilities Management. “The more we can do upstream to reduce pollutant loads, the better it is for the overall environment, and ultimately, the overall health of the Chesapeake Bay.”

Campus Creek, a milelong, east-west waterway that starts at University Boulevard and flows into Paint Branch, for decades bore the brunt of increasing stormwater surges from the UMD Golf Course, University Boulevard and impervious surfaces—including parking lots, campus roads and tennis courts. Heavy rainfalls continue to sweep nitrogen- and phosphorus-laden pollutants and debris into the creek, which empties into the Paint Branch stream and eventually makes its way to the bay via the Anacostia River.

Over time, churning water has also scoured the creek bed, eroded its banks and threatened outfalls that empty stormwater from other parts of campus, said Scott Lupin, director of UMD’s Office of Sustainability. Water inundating the creek during strong storms has toppled trees and vegetation; with little to slow it down, the fast-moving water carries sediment downstream that can affect aquatic life.

“It’s really degraded the creek, and it’s not good for the water quality,” said Lupin. “This restoration will stabilize the rest of the stream so it can better handle the amount of water during storms.”

Plans to restore the creek have been in the works since the late 1990s, said Lupin, but a lack of funding stymied efforts. A $50,000 grant from UMD’s Sustainability Fund in 2014, followed by a larger grant from DNR, financed Phase 1 of the project in 2019, which repaired 3,000 linear feet of creek between Oakland Hall and the School of Public Health. Phase 2 will restore the remaining 2,300 linear feet from the School of Public Health to Paint Branch.

The efforts use a process called “regenerative stream conveyance,” a series of descending “step pools” that slow water flow along the creek bed, which reduces sediment loss and mitigates pollutants that would otherwise empty into the Chesapeake Bay. The restoration also stabilizes the banks and raises the creek bed to allow water to flow into the natural wooded flood plains during significant rainfall.

In addition to Phase 2 of the creek restoration, the grant will fund the upgrade of an old detention pond near the Animal Sciences/Agricultural Engineering Building that collects and holds stormwater runoff from 11 acres of mostly impervious surfaces and the Campus Farm before seeping into Campus Creek. The restoration will essentially transform the pond into a wetland area, integrating new plantings and methods for sediment removal.

The work, said Ho, creates a living laboratory for campus research on the effects of stream restoration on water quality, habitats and the return of wildlife. Ho says Phase 1 led to the return of fish, toads, even eel, to Campus Creek.

“It will certainly help to restore a lot of the aquatic habitat and allow it to grow,” said Ho. “It's really helpful for the overall community and especially future restoration projects.”

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