Green Infrastructure & Sustainable Stormwater Management
Ellerbe Creek Green Infrastructure Partnership
A New Approach to Restoring Durham’s Streams and Rivers
The most densely developed areas of the City and County were built along and on top of the headwaters of Ellerbe creek. The creek receives almost half of all the stormwater runoff from the city creating a huge problem for Ellerbe creek. The 2010 Durham State of Our Streams Report lists numerous pollutants in the creek that are directly related to excess stormwater runoff. Ellerbe Creek has been on the list of North Carolina’s most polluted water bodies since 1998 and stormwater pollution makes the creek nearly uninhabitable for aquatic life and at times dangerous for people.
Ellerbe Creek is the dirtiest stream in the Falls Lake Reservoir Watershed. High levels of nitrogen and phosphorous contribute to the current pollution problem in Falls Lake causing algae blooms and elevated bacteria levels leading to human health hazards, fish kills, drinking water contamination, and closed recreational beaches in the lake. Clean-up goals for the reservoir are in place and call for a 40% reduction in nitrogen and a 77% reduction in phosphorus. To restore clean water to the creek, the City of Durham will need to spend hundreds of millions of dollars using traditional stormwater management practices. A new innovative approach was developed to address these problems relying on integrating green infrastructure (e.g. rain gardens, green roofs, permeable pavement) into the city’s urban landscape to absorb and filter polluted stormwater and slowly release the cleaned, cooled water into the creek to restore its health and make it a more valuable resource for the community.
Stormwater Management: Traditional Infrastructure vs. Green Infrastructure
A city’s urban landscape has not been designed or built to manage stormwater to protect and restore water quality. Traditional stormwater management consists of a network of pipes that collect stormwater, removing it as quickly as possible from the landscape and pipe it directly into nearby creeks and rivers. In contrast, Green Infrastructure mimics the natural landscape; water is cleaned through a network of stormwater management practices that capture and filter rain where it falls. Green Infrastructure reduces stormwater runoff and improves the health of surrounding waterways.
Demonstrate a new approach to stormwater management by integrating green infrastructure into the urban landscape to begin the restoration of the hydrologic balance in Ellerbe Creek. These changes can make the creek an important asset for the community and add value throughout the city. An additional goal was to show that these techniques can help the city comply with regulation to clean up Falls Lake Reservoir.