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Meadow Creek Stream Restoration

Landscape Performance Benefits

Environmental

  • Reduces total sediment loading from eroding banks by an estimated 1,790 tons per year.
  • Estimated to reduce phosphorus by 501 lbs per year, and nitrogen by 553 lbs per year.
  • Increased the ecological integrity of the riparian zone, as measured by a 180% increase in the Plant Stewardship Index, a measure of ecological quality based on the plants found on a site.

Social

  • Created a positive or very positive change to the stream and parkland for 85% of 47 Greenbrier neighborhood residents surveyed.
  • Increased frequency of visits to the newly-protected Greenbrier Park. When asked to consider their use of the trails and green space before and after the restoration, the portion of neighbors reporting that they visit the park 2-3 times per month or more increased from 59% to 75%.
  • Engaged 638 people in research, tours, monitoring, and maintenance activities since the inception of the stream restoration.
  • Provides 40 acres of new public parkland adjacent to 223 units of public and low-income housing.

Economic

  • Catalyzed additional improvement, including a $300,000 multi-use commuter trail and connector bridges that will further enhance the project site.

At a Glance

  • Designer

    Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, Inc

  • Project Type

    Stream restoration

  • Former Land Use

    Park/Open space

  • Location

    2100 Michie Drive
    Charlottesville, Virginia 22901

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  • Climate Zone

    Humid subtropical

  • Size

    7,372 linear feet of stream restoration, 72 acres of conservation easement

  • Budget

    $3.95 million

  • Completion Date

    2013

On the edge of the city of Charlottesville, this 1.4-mile stream restoration abuts parkland, neighborhoods, and a shopping district and contains a section of the 20-mile Rivanna Trail. A tributary of the Rivanna River and part of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, Meadow Creek’s restoration aims to improve its designation as an “impaired waterway”. The “natural channel design” approach establishes a dynamically stable meandering pattern and reconnects the stream to its floodplain, resulting in reduced stream bank erosion and sedimentation. The new self-sustaining stream system reestablishes diverse aquatic habitat and protects and enhances the streamside forest. The project also protected 72 acres of land as new conservation easements, of which 40 acres are new public parkland.

  • 7,372 linear feet of stream were restored using “natural channel design” principles. 31 stream meanders were created through a cut and fill process to restore the stream’s pattern and profile.
  • The steep height of the stream banks was reduced to reconnect the stream with its floodplain. The bankfull width-depth ratio ranges from 8.2  to 38.3, with an average of 19.8.
  • 98 in-stream structures stabilize the stream bank. Log vanes, rock vanes, J-hook vanes, and cross vanes improve channel stability, enhance aquatic habitat features, and provide grade control. Root wads, created from felled trees on-site, provide bank protection and additional habitat.
  • Pools at each of the 31 meanders, with riffles between each, aerate and slow the stream flow.
  • Several depressional features totaling 1 acre are expected to develop into wetlands, adding to the 12 acres of preserved wetlands.
  • New vegetation covers 15.27 acres, restoring native forest habitat, enhancing the stability of the stream bank, and filtering runoff. The 19,000 trees and shrubs, are predominantly Black Willow, Silky Dogwood, Red Oak, Common Persimmon, Sweet Pepper Bush, Common Elderberry and Buttonbush. The nearly 50,000 herbaceous plugs, include Soft Rush, Cardinal Flower, Lurid Sedge, Deer-tongue Grass, Fowl Mannagrass, Sweet Wood Reed-grass and Virginia Wild Rye. 
  • This project protects 72 acres of land along Meadow Creek through permanent conservation easements. This includes the exisiting Greenbriar Park, 12 acres of wetlands, and 40 acres of new public parkland.
  • The new parkland is adjacent to 223 units of public and low-income housing. The land is currently is a densely planted vegetation zone that connects the stream with its vegetated floodplain. Creation of an open play field and playground is planned for a section of the park along Michie Drive.
  • The project preserved the corridor along 1.5 miles of dirt trail, which is part of the 20 mile long Rivanna Trail, a National Recreational Trail and a Virginia Birding and Wildlife Trail.
  • A multi-use trail is planned for the new parkland. It will connect to other sections of trail and provide a hard surface for recreation and commuters. 
  • Interpretive signage along the trail route will showcase the project as an urban stream restoration demonstration site.

Challenge

The biggest challenges posed to The Nature Conservancy (TNC), the acting project manager, with this stream restoration was the urban setting, broad scope, and variety of organizations involved in the project. The urban setting meant that the stream overlapped with multiple layers of infrastructure such as sewer and municipal stormwater. In fact, a major sanitary sewer line adjacent to the stream was actually located within the stream in some locations, due to streambank erosion and migration. Furthermore, this was the longest stream restoration that the Virginia office of TNC had worked on, and ensuring coordination with adjacent and overlapping landowners caused delays and required compromises.

Solution

The Nature Conservancy collaborated with multiple stakeholders including utility providers, designers, neighborhoods, and the city to create a cohesive project. Working closely with the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority resulted in ample space between the new stream path and a new major sewer interceptor to prevent further conflicts, as well as complementary planting selections and coordinated construction timelines. Close collaboration with the City of Charlottesville allowed for stormwater management features to be extended from the stream to the stormwater outflows. Two drainages, which convey significant amounts of stormwater to Meadow Creek, were designed to help detain and slow stormwater flow. The City also assisted in negotiating and facilitating the land acquisition from private landowners.

  • Working with landowners to acquire easement and land donations as part of the restoration project enabled cost savings that may not have been realized if the City had purchased the land for parkland separately. The City of Charlottesville purchased 7.8 acres for $69,500, whereas landowners donated 31 acres. If the City had purchased these 31 acres at a similar price, the land acquisition would have cost $276,000 more.
  • The stream restoration was coordinated with the installation of a new sewer interceptor, which replaced pipes that were 50 years old and located within the stream in some locations due to streambank erosion and migration. Because of this erosion, the structural deterioration of the sewer, and the fact that the sewer was undersized for current wet weather flows, four major emergency repairs occurred between 2005 and 2010, costing the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority $285,000. The restored stream is stable and has been relocated to maintain a safe distance from a new sewer line, ensuring that erosion won’t affect the line in the future.
  • Significantly more time and effort may be necessary to obtain conservation easements in urban areas than in rural areas. The process of property acquisition to create 40 new acres of parkland was lengthy, as it came from 4 different sources. Having multiple landowners increased the amount of time needed to negotiate terms of acquisition and land protection documents. After the project was identified, it took 4 years to finalize the land donations and acquisitions. Conservation easements on the City’s public lands required public hearings and City Council approval, which occurred over 2 years. Coordinating with and getting approvals from utility owners for overlaps with smaller sanitary sewer lines, a natural gas line, several water lines, numerous stormwater conveyances and two road crossings also added time and compromise not typically required for rural projects.
  • Additional outreach is needed when conducting large restoration projects in an urban area as compared to a rural area. Public meetings, neighborhood meetings, publications, media engagement, web sites, and site tours were conducted to ensure that City staff, neighbors and citizens had opportunities to participate in the design process and were informed of what would be happening during all project phases. Different methods were used to reach out to the diversity of neighbors adjacent to the project, including hand-delivered invitations to low-income housing residents.
  • Although working in an urban area with a variety of stakeholders requires some compromise during the design process, the final product has brought unexpected benefits for The Nature Conservancy’s outreach program. As a result of the stream’s urban location, they are able to conduct demonstrations and offer educational, research and volunteer opportunities.
  • Invasive species management in urban areas can be a long-term and costly process. The mitigation requirements put forth by the funder, the Virginia Aquatic Resources Trust Fund, requires a certain level of success for stream restorations, and therefore the project continues for years past installation. There are 28 invasive species present in significant extents at Meadow Creek due to historic use as well as current pedestrian access and proximity to residential properties. 20% of the construction budget was set aside to fund a 10-year monitoring program, conducted by the Nature Conservancy and the engineers, that will monitor the presence of invasive species and the success of introduced native vegetation. Requirements of the fund also include maintenance such as invasive species removal, replacement of structural features such as root wads, and additional plantings such as live stakes.
  • One of the large wetland depressions is wetter than projected one year after completion of the restoration, with more standing water than intended as a result of a wetter year than normal. The depressions are remnants of the former stream channel and are expected to dry out as the weather normalizes and the vegetation continues to grow and soak up the excess water.

Project Team

Project Coordinator: The Nature Conservancy 
Client: The City of Charlottesville 
Design Engineer: Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, Inc 
Construction Firm: Coastal Design and Construction, Inc. 
Plant and Invasive Species Contractor: Emerald Forest

Case Study Prepared By

Research Fellow: Leena Cho, Lecturer in Landscape Architecture, University of Virginia 
Research Assistant: Margaret Graham, MLA Candidate, University of Virginia 
Firm Liaison: Diane Frisbee, The Nature Conservancy; Dan Frisbee, City of Charlottesville
August 2014 

To cite:

Cho, Leena, and Margaret Graham. “Meadow Creek Stream Restoration.” Landscape Performance Series. Landscape Architecture Foundation, 2014. https://doi.org/10.31353/cs0690

Topics

Educational signage, Native Plants, Trail, Trees, Wetland, Restoration

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