Completed Section with Vegetation
Meadow Creek, one of the city's major waterways, was selected to undergo a significant stream restoration. The restoration will result in a stable stream system and improved water quality, as well as enhanced aquatic habitat and aesthetic values.
Meadow Creek is part of the Rivanna River watershed, which is part of the larger Chesapeake Bay watershed. The Rivanna River watershed has been identified as one of the five best examples of high quality Piedmont river systems remaining in Virginia. However, increased sedimentation, due in large part to uncontrolled stormwater runoff, stream bank erosion, and the lack of forested buffers in riparian areas, poses a serious threat to the health of the watershed.
Why Does Meadow Creek Need Restoration?
The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality has listed Meadow Creek and a segment of the Rivanna River downstream as 'impaired waterways'. Impairment in these waters is due in part to excessive sedimentation from stream bank erosion. Restoring Meadow Creek and enhancing and preserving the forested buffer and wetlands along the creek will aid in reducing sedimentation and filtering stormwater runoff entering Meadow Creek and the Rivanna River.
Why are Sedimentation and Erosion Problems?
An adult Mayfly, which is an indicator of a clean waterway.
As rivers and streams flow, they naturally carve their course through the landscape - carrying a certain amount of sediment downstream. In natural conditions, a river will alter its course over time, as it creates natural meanders and floodplains that slow its flow during storm events, dissipating energy and reducing erosion. But in urban environments, large areas are covered with impervious surfaces. As a result, water cannot infiltrate into the ground, and instead drains into stormwater systems, and then creeks and rivers, much faster than it naturally would. This rapid drainage and increased quantity of runoff results in high peak flows in waterways. The matter is made worse by the fact that many urban waterways have been "channelized" or straightened in order to maximize developable land, reducing the natural capacity of the waterway to slow down and dissipate the water's energy. The result is severe erosion of stream banks, scouring of stream beds, and excessive sedimentation. Sediment loading is recognized as one of the greatest threats to the Rivanna River and the Chesapeake Bay; sediment carries pollutants that have bonded to it into waterways, suspends in the water column and blocks sunlight from aiding in the growth of submerged aquatic vegetation, clogs the gills of fish (sometimes suffocating them), and eventually destroys aquatic habitat in streambeds when it settles.
What are Riparian Buffers?
A buffer is a vegetated strip alongside a stream. The streamside zone, also called the riparian zone, exercises very strong controls over stream conditions and is therefore vital to the health of the entire river basin. It is in this zone, where stream water makes its most intimate contact with the channel bed and banks, that much of a stream’s cleansing action and nutrient processing occurs.
How do Buffers Protect Stream Health?
- Buffers dissipate stream energy – streamside vegetation reduces the power of the stream by slowing water down through friction. Doubling the speed of a stream’s flow results in the erosion of four times as much soil.
- The vegetation acts to filter pollutants from surface runoff. For example, buffers can remove excess nitrogen and phosphorus (two harmful pollutants) from artificial fertilizers, which in large quantities can cause harmful algae blooms that deplete oxygen levels in waterways.
- The plants, trees, and root systems filter and trap sediment, keeping it out of the waterway where it can negatively impact aquatic habitat, while building and maintaining the stream banks.
- Buffers improve water infiltration. If vegetation is removed, water flows downstream at a much higher velocity, decreasing the amount that soaks into the riparian area and streambed. Water that soaks into these areas recharges groundwater supplies, which in turn enhances stream flow levels throughout the year and in drier seasons.
- Buffers provide vital wildlife habitat and food sources for aquatic organisms as well as shade to keep water temperatures cool.
- Buffers can reduce flood damage. When small streams are in their natural state, they absorb significant amounts of rainwater and runoff before flooding. However, when a landscape is altered, the runoff can exceed the absorption capacity of the stream.
A degraded stretch of Meadow Creek
In 2005, the Water Quality Management Study conducted by the City of Charlottesville identified stream bank erosion as the most significant source of sediment in Meadow Creek and its tributaries. Another study, the Albemarle Stream Assessment, completed in 2003, had already classified reaches of Meadow Creek as having severe erosion and severely inadequate buffers. The Rivanna Watershed Conservation Action Plan, developed by The Nature Conservancy, also identified increased sedimentation, due in part to stream bank erosion and the lack of forested buffers in riparian areas, as the greatest current threat to streams and rivers in the Rivanna watershed.
As such, Meadow Creek was one of a number of sites visited in the spring of 2006 to identify potential stream restoration opportunities through the Virginia Aquatic Resources Trust Fund (VARTF). The VARTF is a cooperative program between the US Army Corps of Engineers and The Nature Conservancy which establishes a mechanism to provide compensatory mitigation for wetland and stream impacts incurred during development activities. The Meadow Creek stream restoration project was submitted to the US Army Corps of Engineers as a proposed stream restoration project, and received approval and funding from the VARTF.
The project was accomplished in collaboration with the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority (RWSA), which undertook a sanitary sewer interceptor upgrade in the same area. The City, RWSA, and The Nature Conservancy coordinated the two projects to ensure protection of both the stream and the sewer interceptor.
What Did the Stream Restoration Work Involve?
Restoration work involved restoring 9,000 linear feet of degraded stream, preserving 10 acres of wetlands, over one mile of the Rivanna Trail, and a total of 72 acres of land.
The work entailed reducing the steep height of the stream banks, realigning the stream channel, adding meanders and in-stream habitat structures, removing invasive plant species, and planting native plants and trees to enhance the forested buffer along the stream. Extensive data collection, surveying, and modeling was completed to aid in the development of the project design and subsequent construction. Citizen and neighborhood input was solicited throughout the process and played a vital role.
One of the highly eroded stream banks of Meadow Creek
The project built on the environmental initiatives being undertaken by the City and other groups throughout the watershed and will serve as a demonstration site, providing educational opportunities to citizens and landowners. The project complements the work done upstream on Meadow Creek by the University of Virginia, which has recently completed a number of stream restoration projects, including at the Dell, the Ivy Road parking garage, and the John Paul Jones Arena.
To permanently protect the stream, wetlands, and forested buffer, conservation easements have been placed over the project area. The conservation easements will also protect over a mile of the Rivanna Trail located along Meadow Creek in this area. A trails plan is being developed that will work in concert with the new easements and stream alignment.
Map of the Meadow Creek Restoration Project
To view or download a Meadow Creek Restoration Project Fact Sheet click here.
To view or download a Meadow Creek Restoration Summary Document click here.
To view or download a map of the project area, click here.
To view or download the Meadow Creek Restoration Project presentation that was delivered at the Open House in April 2012, please click here.
To view or download the Meadow Creek Restoration Project presentation that was delivered at the Open House in July 2011, please click here. Please note that the project timeline has changed since this presentation.
To view or download the Meadow Creek Restoration Project and Meadow Creek Sanitary Sewer Interceptor Replacement Project presentation that was delivered to City Council in November 2009, please click here. Please note that the project timeline and scope have changed since this presentation.
To view or download the Meadow Creek Restoration Project presentation that was delivered at the Community Open House in September 2008, please click here. Please note that the project timeline and scope have changed since this presentation.