Urban Trout Stream Gets a Second Chance

by David Lee and Jim Lovell

A stream restoration project at the University of Notre Dame, South Bend, Indiana, has shown how innovative design and construction methods can literally save the life of an urban stream. Last September, as salmon and trout spawned in a newly created channel of Juday Creek, Notre Dame, researchers took the opportunity to study the recovery of a restored aquatic ecosystem right in their own backyard. Although the new channel is still fairly young, "it's fair to say that the initial indications look very good," said University biologist Dr. Ronald Hellenthal.

The central focus of the Juday Creek restoration plan was to relocate the stream from its channelized alignment to a new channel approximately 2,200 feet long. "The purpose of relocation was to remove the stream from potential impacts from the golf course, to improve habitat, and mitigate for off-site water quality problems," said Jim Lovell of Confluence Consulting, Inc. of Bozeman, MT. Early plans for the golf course called for substantial clearing of streamside vegetation for fairways and did not mitigate for course runoff, he explained.

The project was constructed and managed by a collaboration between J.F. New and Associates of Walkerton, Indiana and Confluence Consulting, Inc. The project has set the standard for cooperation between often conflicting interests of environmental preservation and development. Notre Dame is in the process of building a $7 million golf course adjacent to the campus, land which includes the floodplain of Juday Creek, a coldwater trout stream considered rare in this part of the Midwest. The new facility, officially named the William K. and Natalie O. Warren Golf Course, was designed by Coore and Crenshaw, Inc. of Austin, Texas, and is scheduled to open in the spring of 1999. The University retained the services of J.F. New and Associates to acquire the state and federal permits for the new course. Recognizing that this was no typical permitting job, J.F. New contacted Jim Lovell (then project manager with Inter-Fluve, Inc. of Bozeman, MT) to help find ways to integrate the design of the course with the preservation of trout in Juday Creek. Construction of the stream project was the result of a joint effort of J.F. New and Confluence, and a number of other organizations, including construction contractor Keith Reilly and surveying and engineering contractor Ken Herceg & Associates, Inc.

Juday Creek: A History of Abuse
Running through the Notre Dame campus, Juday Creek shares a common fate with other area waterways. Since the 1800's, the stream has experienced pressure from agricultural development and, more recently, Juday Creek has been on a downward spiral due to urbanization of the watershed. "Over the years, Juday Creek has taken a lot of abuse from agricultural and urban runoff," said Dr. Gary Lamberti, an aquatic ecologist with Notre Dame. The stream was channelized and straightened along the edges of agricultural fields, and deepened to improve drainage. "As cities grew within the watershed, urban runoff began polluting the stream," said Lamberti.

"Biologically, Juday Creek was in relatively good shape until the mid-1980's," according to Dr. Ron Hellenthal, an aquatic entomologist at Notre Dame. For the past 20 years, Hellenthal has been studying the stream's invertebrates, which serve as a food base for salmon and trout. Invertebrates also provide a good measure of the general health of aquatic systems. "We have a pretty good understanding of what invertebrates were in the stream and how abundant they were," he said. In the mid-'80's, when St. Joseph County dredged Juday Creek, Hellenthal noticed a "catastrophic decline" in aquatic insect populations. "The stream was buried by moving silt," he recalls. "Ninety to ninety-five percent of the organisms we had been studying were gone by 1990."

Although long-term data on fish populations are lacking, Hellenthal said it is reasonable to assume they, too, were almost wiped out. Increased development along the banks of Juday Creek hasn't helped matters, and until the new channel was created this fall, Hellenthal had seen no recovery in the invertebrate populations.

Much of the stream's flow comes from groundwater springs which have excellent water quality and constant cool temperatures. "We saw that this combination of factors gave Juday Creek tremendous potential for producing trout," said Lovell. However, clearing and development along the stream corridor had increased water temperatures and degraded water quality to the point where the fishery was on the verge of disappearing. Now, a variety of aquatic insects are proliferating in the new stream bed and providing a primary food source for trout and salmon.

Design-Build Approach Proved Effective
Confluence and J.F. New used a "design-build" approach to the Juday Creek project, a process which decreases up-front design costs and allows for additional cost-saving adjustments and design in the field. "To completely design a channel with all of the variability and diversity found in a natural stream would have required very extensive and costly design plans," explains Lovell. By using a design-build approach, the consultants were able to complete the project for $194,400, which resulted in a 15% savings compared to the initial cost estimate of $228,800. In addition, Confluence was able to closely supervise all construction activities, thereby ensuring a quality installation.

Planners had to contend with several off-site factors affecting water quality and fish habitat. Juday Creek carries a high sediment load which can be detrimental for trout and other species which depend on cool, clear waters for spawning and food production. To combat the sediment problem, "we built corrective elements into the new reach," said Gillilan. These included a sediment trap, off-channel wetlands, and a filter for stormwater runoff. "The purpose of the stormwater filter is to take the first flush of runoff from an existing stormwater pipe and pass it through specialized wetland plants to remove potential contaminants," said project manager Martha Wilczynski of J.F. New and Associates. If left untreated, runoff from nearby roads could contaminate this section of Juday Creek with hydrocarbons, heavy metals, salts, sediment and heat from road surfaces, she explained. Over 30 wetland plant species were used in the vegetative filter, which absorbs and immobilizes many of the contaminants. "Additionally, plant root zones contain a wealth of microbes which help to break down chemical pollutants," Wilczynski added.

Another factor designers had to contend with was runoff from the new golf course. Although Notre Dame plans to use fescue grass, which requires little or no pesticides or herbicides, the risk of course runoff contaminating the waters of Juday Creek was addressed as an added precaution. To meet this challenge, planners relocated over 2,200 feet of the stream away from the main golf course and designed a system of swales and depressions which divert course runoff to wetland filtering ponds. "Relocating the stream in nearby woodlands not only minimized the risks of runoff from the golf course, but also returned the stream to a more natural meander pattern, creating habitat for fish and aquatic insects," said Lovell.

New Stream Built in the Dry
As part of the plan to minimize disturbance to the new stream bank habitat, the designers chose not to build a construction access road for heavy equipment along the banks. Instead, they used the alignment of the new channel as a haul road for transporting equipment and materials to the site. The stream was then constructed from one end to the other by excavating a channel through the haul road.

This construction method presented one of the biggest challenges because the design/build team had no opportunity to see how flows would behave in the new channel. "We had one shot at it," recalled Lovell. "There was no way of getting back into the channel to make adjustments after the water was released into the new stream bed. As a consequence, we had to pay very careful attention to grade and planform in order to assure that flows would be appropriate through the various habitat features such as pools, riffles, spawning beds, and backwater areas."

Although this technique increased construction costs, it allowed the woods along the stream to remain intact, providing a canopy cover over the water. This canopy shades the stream and helps to moderate the effect of hot summer temperatures on coldwater trout. Saving the stream bank vegetation also gave the new stream an instant, mature riparian corridor, which greatly enhanced the wildlife value and natural aesthetics of the channel.

To build the channel, contractors used scrapers and bulldozers to remove topsoil, which was loaded into dump trucks driving only within the new stream alignment. The trucks also brought in hundreds of yards of gravel, which was placed a foot deep in the new reach by a tracked excavator. The gravel was sized to protect the stream bed from scour up to the 25-year flood flow. In addition, the gravel provided excellent habitat for macroinvertebrates and created spawning areas for trout. A front-end loader helped workers install large boulder and woody debris for trout habitat.

Unstable, sandy stream banks along the new reach created additional challenges. Erosion control supervisor, Bob Allison of J.F. New, and his crews carefully compacted the banks by hand, then prepared a bed for seeding with a mixture of native grasses and forbs with a cover crop of oats. The crews then meticulously installed biodegradable BonTerra¨ CS-2 erosion control blankets, working the material around trees, boulders and roots. "They did a fantastic job - it's the best bank installation I've ever seen," said Lovell. As a final touch, the crews will plant nearly 5,000 trees and shrubs along the stream corridor this spring to further increase canopy cover over Juday Creek.

Baseline Data Provides Rare Opportunities
Project designers and the University are fortunate to have considerable background data on the biology of Juday Creek. Thanks to the efforts of Notre Dame researchers Hellenthal and Lamberti, it will be possible to track the biological progress of the new Juday Creek channel. According to Gillilan, this type of long-term monitoring is relatively rare and provides excellent opportunities to learn about the biological function of created channels.

Dr. Hellenthal and his graduate students are studying the responses of aquatic insects in the new stream channel and comparing them to control sections upstream and downstream of the restoration site. "The new stream is already beginning to show signs of aquatic insect recolonization, but it will be a year or more before we have definitive data," said Hellenthal after sampling Juday Creek this past fall. Dr. Hellenthal and his colleagues will be monitoring the stream's recovery over the next several years. Measures taken by designers to control silt in this portion of Juday Creek will give Notre Dame biologists "a good way to test the hypothesis that the loss of high quality stream habitat was due to siltation," he explained.

Notre Dame's Dr. Gary Lamberti has been studying Juday Creek's fish populations and, according to Lamberti, Juday Creek is "one of only two or three streams in Northern Indiana that support trout." Before the relocation project, Lamberti found small numbers of brown trout, rainbow trout and a handful of non-sport species such as northern hog sucker, creek chub and mottled sculpin. This past October, he sampled the newly restored reach and found a variety of fish, including trout, salmon from nearby Lake Michigan, and non-sport species. Ashley Moerke, one of Lamberti's graduate students, counted 26 trout "redds" or nests in the newly constructed reach and none in unimproved reaches of the stream nearby. These data all point to the promise for success of the Juday Creek restoration project.

Permitting Process Proves Challenging
A number of state and federal regulatory agencies were involved in providing permits for the project, and many were skeptical about the idea to relocate parts of the stream. And rightfully so: previous stream relocation projects in the area have resulted in featureless, channelized and riprap-lined streams that are little more than ditches. "Communicating to the regulatory community how our design concepts were different was a challenge," recalled Martha Wilczynski. Because there had been no similar projects attempted in Indiana, the regulators had to accept on faith that the designers could actually improve the stream through relocation, "which was a hard-sell to some of the regulators." "We were up against a lot of opposition," added Jim Lovell. "The permitting agencies had no idea we could really create a stream channel that looks and acts naturally."

"We are always somewhat reluctant to consider stream relocations until we have a good sense that the project will not damage natural resources," said Bill Maudlin with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (IDNR). Although they usually discourage stream relocations, IDNR officials said they were intrigued by the design. "After we looked at the plans, we saw that this relocation actually increased the length of the stream by adding more meanders, pools and riffles than had existed before." And after walking the new stream bed before it was re-watered last fall, Maudlin said he was encouraged there would be a net gain in fish habitat. Time will be the true test."

William Kendall, project manager with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers wrote the Federal 404 Permit which allowed the project to go ahead. One of his biggest concerns was that the new channel would fail, leading to bank erosion and an increase in sediment load to the stream. The project team worked hard to convince skeptics that their channel design would be stable and agreed to allow the stream banks to revegetate for six weeks before diverting water into the new channel. After seeing the completed work, Kendall said Confluence and J.F. New had made a concerted effort to increase water quality in Juday Creek, resulting in "an improvement for trout populations and macroinvertebrates."

All Signs Point to Success
As this article goes to press, water in the new reach of Juday Creek had been flowing for only a short period of time. Nevertheless, the project is already being hailed as a success. "I think the stream they created is absolutely gorgeous," said John DeLee, Director of Utilities at Notre Dame. "Now Juday Creek is a winding channel with many areas for fish to multiply and thrive. It looks like a completely natural stream, where there once was just a straight ditch."

Notre Dame scientists are also pleased by the project's outcome. "By relocating the stream through a woodland, the project team has done Juday Creek a great favor - they've given that stream reach a chance to recover," said Notre Dame's Lamberti. If the project success continues, added Hellenthal, it may set a precedent and serve as an example for future development along Juday Creek and other urban streams. "If all developers in the watershed subjected their projects to planning and improvements at this level, then all of Juday Creek would be in excellent condition."

The Juday Creek project provides a model for cooperation between development and environmental protection. Scott Gillilan of Confluence said he was pleased with how well the project turned out, given the initial concern by the permitting agencies. "Some pretty innovative techniques were demonstrated in project design and implementation and a better stream was created, with better habitat attributes than existed before." L&W

For more information, contact Confluence Consulting at (406)585-9500, e-mail: confluence@mcn.net ; or J.F. New & Associates at (219)596-3400, e-mail: JFNew@skyenet.net and visit their website at www.jfnew.com

©2000, 1999, 1998 Land and Water, Inc.
Monday, November 13, 2000 - http://www.landandwater.com/features/vol42no1/vol42no1_1.html