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Town Creek Watershed Project improves water quality for downstream neighbors

Published: 06/08/2017

By: Candis Birchfield

Auburn University’s Garden of Memory is not just a garden. Located across the street from the President’s House and the Davis Arboretum, the Garden of Memory is also an ecologically important resource because within it are the headwaters for the Town Creek watershed. “Headwaters” is a term used to refer to the upstream areas of a watershed.

Water from the Garden of Memory travels to the Davis Arboretum and then leaves campus, flowing to Town Creek, on to Chewacla Creek, and into Chewacla State Park, about 4 miles away. Eventually, the water flows from Chewacla State Park to the Tallapoosa River. Thus, the ecological impact of the wetland in the Garden of Memory also affects places hundreds of miles away. 

During the reconstruction of the Garden of Memory in 2016, through the collaborative efforts of multiple campus units, departments, and colleges, including the College of Sciences and Mathematics and the Davis Arboretum, a team worked to design and implement an improved wetland and floodplain enhancement in the Garden of Memory’s Town Creek watershed.

The project was partially funded by a National Fish and Wildlife Foundation – Five Star and Urban Waters Restoration Program 2015 grant and Southern Company.

“These Five Star grants are a reflection of the importance of corporate responsibility and stewardship,” said Leslie Cox, manager of Southern Company’s Environmental Stewardship Program. “The funding brings together public and private entities, encourages them to think outside the box, and sparks them to make a positive difference in the community.”

The Town Creek Watershed Project in the Garden of Memory improved water quality by implementing a number of environmentally sound practices. Invasive and unwanted species in the area, such as Chinese Privet, Bradford Pear and Greenbriar, were removed and replaced with native plants that will provide the deep roots needed to limit siltation, stabilize the streambank and wetland areas, and increase habitat quality by producing needed nutrients in the watershed. The team developed a functioning floodplain and implemented best management practices to existing pipes that discharge into the stream. Natural rock structures were incorporated near the outfall pipes to slow down the water as it enters the watershed, and similar material was used to hold up the steep sides of the streambank.

By reducing siltation and increasing habitat quality, the Town Creek Watershed Restoration project will contribute to the overall health of the Upper Tallapoosa River Basin.

In addition to promoting a cleaner watershed, the project serves as an educational and outreach tool for multiple units across campus and the community. The installation has been incorporated into a larger Stormwater Management Tour that begins in the Davis Arboretum and impacts more than 2,500 students each year ranging from 3rd graders to graduate students.

The project represents one of the largest interdepartmental collaborations on campus and includes the Davis Arboretum; College of Sciences and Mathematics; Facilities Management; College of Architecture, Design, and Construction; School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences; Office of Campus Planning and Space Management; Design Services and Construction Management; Office of Sustainability; Alabama Clean Water Partnership; Alabama Water Watch; the Alabama Cooperative Extension System; Holcombe, Norton and Partners, Inc.; and Landscape Services.

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