Recreating wetland-stream complexes in urban watersheds

[Music playing] Faith: We’re at Howard’s Branch which is a project that’s about 10 years old. It’s a sand seepage wetlands stream complex. And I’m standing here with Ron and Kevin and Keith. Ron, this is the first project that the county was involved in of this sort and type. Tell us a little bit about the background on the project. Ron: Okay, you’re correct. This is an entirely new technique that was first introduced to us a little over 10 years ago I guess, upwards of 12 years ago. And the origin of the project itself, the valley floor here actually was part of a reservoir of water for a water production facility. It’s a little further downstream here. It was serving the one community up to our left. And what had transpired over the years is the dam structure for the reservoir itself had deteriorated in a fairly significant storm event, a downpour of rain overwhelmed that dam structure and there was a catastrophic failure of the wall of water then washed its way down to the tidal waters down below. But what was left behind was this valley floor that was pretty much filled over many years with the sediment that transported in behind the dam structure itself. And after the dam failure itself, the sediments were progressively being moved out of the valley floor on downstream. It was cutting a channel. It was meandering through those legacy sediments and transferring a lot of material downstream. At that time, Keith Underwood, the innovator behind the technique that was deployed here and the number of other residents in the communities that are nearby here, had been advocating for this new technique that Keith had come up with relative to how to restore these kinds of degraded systems. And that basically led to our first journey as it relates to a creation of a wetland of this nature. Faith: So Keith, we’re standing on a wetland complex. What’s the significance with this within kind of the history of the area? Keith: From a biologic standpoint, I have always had strong interest in plants and then led to rare plants. In 1996, a colleague, Phil Sheridan and myself conducted a survey, a biological survey of all the remaining Atlantic white cedar, remaining west of the Chesapeake Bay. The trees that you see around here are associated with numerous other rarities, the picture plants, the sundews, the carnivorous plants, the bog orchids. In fact, the vast majority of our rare threatened and endangered species for this area here. So we began efforts to look for opportunities to restore those organisms. What we found in that inventory was 1214 live individuals above a meter in height on 10 sites here. And that set off the alarm bells that we really needed to begin restoration sites. Faith: So particular to that Atlantic white cedar kind of complex. So everything that we’re looking at here has been put in and built up, kind of capped over the existing millpond sediment. Keith: Right. Faith: So all of this has been planted to restore that kind of environment. Keith: Well we initially pursued opportunities to restore the degrading natural sites and it was clear that we were not going to get permits for that. So we began efforts to find, to locate opportunities to synthesize the conditions to create these backup populations on degraded sites and this was the site selected for a number of reasons. Faith: So Kevin, I can hear the frogs in the background as we’re talking. So this really has a lot of habitat potential as the water is spread out into these different wetland environments. Say a little more about that. Kevin: Well it’s quite different here than it was you know 12 years ago when this was first proposed. And at that time it was just a single thread channel moving through these unconsolidated sediments with very little habitat value. We shocked the stream for fish and found no fish in there, some frogs and some eels at that time so very little habitat value at that time. The flood plan was mostly rice cut grass with some red maples coming up. Today you look at it and you see a vast difference in the complexity of the habitat and the species that are out here. And as I said earlier, we saw, you know we’ve already identified three species of frogs already and just today and the wood ducks that are here and then the fish that are in the stream and all the variety of plants that exist out here and some of them very rare. So quite a big difference from what it was 12 years ago. Faith: I imagine there’s a lot of maintenance involved in this still that we don’t really see currently but a lot of community involvement in taking care of invasive – do you have problems with invasive species coming in down here? Keith: No this side is essentially self manning at this point in time. Yes, as you look around, the vast majority of the cedar that you see here back behind us is recruitment from natural rainfall. The cedars were planted here as a seed source. We bucked the conventional US Forest Service approach to attempting to restore cedar stands simply because there wasn’t enough material remaining. We devised a method to get the trees up in a nursery operation large enough to provide their own seed rain and begin colonizing the site on its own volition here. [Music playing]

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