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Understanding the Elements of Restoration: Case Study of Urban Impoundments/Oxbows

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A successful urban stream revitalization project is a holistic process that should consider environmental, engineering, economic and social aspects of the project as opposed to just one or two elements. This paper discusses the dynamic link between engineering, environmental, and economic aspects, and the social aspect by discussing efforts made to foster public interest by contrasting the restoration of three urban lakes, all located within the Rouge River watershed in Michigan.

The Rouge River Watershed occupies 467 square miles and runs through the most densely populated and urbanized land area in Michigan. More than one million people live in the watershed in 48 local communities and three counties. The river's four branches total approximately 126 miles of waterways and include over 400 lakes, impoundments and ponds. More than 50 miles of the river flows through public parklands, making the Rouge River one of the most publicly accessible rivers in the country. With increased development occurring in the headwaters over the past ten years, more than 50 percent of the land use is residential, commercial, and industrial. The watershed has been the subject of intense restoration efforts since 1992, primarily through the Rouge River National Wet Weather Demonstration Project, a $400 million federal effort. This paper will discuss the public interest and its link/impact on urban stream restoration by focusing on three projects funded under this massive federal effort. The restoration projects are located at Newburgh Lake in the Wayne County parks system, the Oxbow at the Henry Ford in Dearborn and Carpenter Lake in the City of Southfield.

Newburgh Lake is a 105-acre impoundment of the Rouge River. The accumulation of sediments containing elevated levels of contaminants, substantially diminished the recreational opportunities of the lake. The specific, multiple objectives established for this project included restoration of water quality; elimination of the fish consumption advisory for PCBs; increasing the amount and diversity of aquatic life; increasing the use of the lake, and enhancing the public perception of the lake as a resource for both recreation and education. Completion of the habitat restoration activities included: removal of approximately 558,000 tons of sediment from the lake; establishment of aquatic habitat shoals and structural fish habitat; eradication and disposal of 30,000 pounds of contaminated fish, and restocking the lake with game fish. During the project, a public education program was developed which included elementary schools to make presentations and tours of the construction. In addition, to further underscore the connection between the river and public uses, the project provided a boat ramp and docks and enhanced adjacent park areas for recreational use. This allowed the public to rediscover the lake that they had forgotten about and created a spring board for continued citizen involvement in the area.

The Oxbow cut off by a flood control project along the River that installed a concrete channel in approximately nine miles of the original river channel, thereby cutting off a number of river meanders and creating several shallow oxbow wetlands. The main objective of the Oxbow Restoration Project was to enhance the ecological viability of this western-most Oxbow by creating valuable fish and wildlife habitat, and to restore functioning riverine wetlands that had been lost due to the channelization. A key secondary objective was to provide educational and interpretative opportunities. Aquatic habitat was enhanced by appropriate placement of woody and stone materials (shelter) and submergent plant species in and near deeper pool areas. Upon completion of the construction, the oxbow upland had an educational program developed associated with it.

Lastly, the Carpenter Lake site represented virtually the only “lake” in the city of Southfield. The Carpenter Lake Restoration Project provided immediate and long-term results for wildlife habitat, aesthetics, lake ecology, as well as its recreational value. Habitat improvements allow a place for plants and wildlife to thrive. As part of the dam structure replacement, flow variability and flooding is reduced through management of water before, during and after storm events which improves the quality of water downstream of the lake. Conditions for native fish populations are also vastly improved by the removal of non-native fish and aquatic species, the creation of deepwater pools for improved habitat and the design of lake habitat to foster increased fish populations. The installation of a trail system with interpretive signage and native preserve areas created opportunities for public involvement and education. As one of Southfield's largest community parks, Carpenter Lake Nature Preserve is a critical piece of city-owned open space and is one of only a limited number of sites in Oakland County that allow for public access to the Rouge River.

In summary, urban stream restoration projects require that the social aspect of a project be considered as value-added to the engineering, environmental, and economic studies/planning.

Keywords: Habitat; Impoundments; Public; Restoration

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2010-01-01

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