Riparian Buffer, or Trash Colander?

I stopped by a city park recently and was overwhelmed by the following scenes. I’m sure there’s a reasonable explanation…

OK, this is the setting... a city park with a natural pond/lake fed by an active stream and/or watershed. A Riparian Buffer Zone is intended to "improve water quality by filtering sediment & trash from storm water runoff" by using a vegetation buffer zone adjacent to water bodies.
Nothing to say but "Yuck!" This is no scene for a city park that is supposed to be a "natural" setting. Is this current state seriously a "Demonstration Project"? I don't think so, because it's not the plants doing the buffering - it's the bridge.
Apparently, heavy rains float the debris to the bridge, but shouldn't/couldn't there be a buffer upstream? And where does the trash originate?
Thank goodness for the cleansing power of aeration, because this is the other side of the bridge, with the water on it's way to the Chesapeake Bay.

Let’s see what the BushHog & Squirrel gang are saying about this:

4 thoughts on “Riparian Buffer, or Trash Colander?

  1. I’ve been visiting this scene nearly daily for the last 26 years and have had a lot of time to study the situation.

    One problem: City park on county line means both administrations tend to ignore it. The low point came back in the 90’s, when the city was managed by Robert Bobb (who went on to manage Oakland, Ca. and now Detroit, Mi, but I digress). Anyway, Bob Bobb was all set to turn the park into a public golf course. Fortunately the outcry from the neighborhood dissuaded that effort. Since then, the city has actually stepped up their management effort and the park has improved a lot. Active soccer fields now stand where there used to be a debris field of landscape waste from the whole city, for example.

    Next problem: Possibly unmanageable upstream issues flowing down. The water that flows through these lakes is some of the most polluted water anywhere in Virginia. The main streams that flow into the lakes drain large portions of Richmond and Henrico’s west end neighborhoods. One of the steams drains the Acca rail yard, and all three streams flowing into the lakes drain waste from I-64 and or I-95. Long story short: There is a lot of OIL in the water and every time it rains lots of debris washes into this basin.

    Next problem: For many years, it was considered more of a hazard to clean this up than to leave it alone. The idea was that any disturbance to the lake sediments would do more harm than good, by releasing oils and other toxic chemicals that have been collecting in the lake sediments (kind of like the way that all the KEPONE that’s still in the James River is not doing much harm as long as it’s left alone to sit in the river sediments).

    Over the years, the Friends of Bryan Park, the city, other groups and individuals have made continual efforts to mitigate the issues pictured in your post. There are trash clean-ups scheduled on a regular basis, but one rainfall latter, there is new trash to be cleaned up. That log jam at the dam has been removed at least 2 dozen times in the last decade or so…. It always comes back. The watershed demonstration project pictured in the post was, I believe, a well meaning effort by citizen groups to do something to mitigate erosion and educate the public. But the project had limited scope and impact.

    Some potential good news is on the horizon: Recently, possibly due to a changing perspective on how to manage watersheds, permits have been approved to dredge these lakes, remove the sediment and restore the shoreline. I guess that, now, the need to mitigate storm water runoff have trumped the issues related to releasing oil back into the watershed (I don’t actually know). I have very little info on this breaking news, but have been told the work will commence in one year. Meanwhile, the drains in the dams have been opened and most of the time, the lakes are pretty empty.

    If I ever won, say, 200 million dollars in the lottery, I would consider spending about 50 million to mitigate pollution upstream from the park and build filtration plants to clean the waste that can’t be mitigated. But, on the other hand, if I had $50 million to give away, I might want to look at the problem from a global perspective and see if the 50 mil could have more impact if applied to a different problem, like homelessness or habitat restoration in more critical places. I’m just saying that it would probably cost 50 million to fix the upstream problems, and how likely is that to ever happen, given all the other problems out there?

    If Bushhog and his buddies want to do something about this, the best approach would be to persuade CSX Corporation (the biggest non government polluter contributing to the problem) to stop the point source pollution from Acca Yard, and pay to mitigate the stream bed problems they’ve created. Good luck with that.

    On the bright side, Bryan Park has a lot to offer. It has a unique forest environment, for example. Since this park is effectively walled off from the rest of nature by highways and development, a unique environment has developed there. This is mostly due to the lack of DEER in the park. Since deer are not there tromping and munching on the forest understory, the result is a very unusual place with a surprising abundance of flora and fauna. Enjoy the good parts for now and let’s be hopeful that the upcoming dredging project will make the lakes look better for a while.

    1. Thanks for the important background. I didn’t realize there was such a deep history to that watershed. Sounds like upstream attention is critical, as always.
      Re: BushHog intervention, BushHog & crew are pretty busy right now, trying to keep the groundhogs from eating all the tomatoes. But one day maybe BushHog & buddies will march on City Hall.

  2. “has,” not “have” above… you’ll see where.

    …and another note. I think the reason the lakes are being dredged is so they will perform better as catch basins. I think there is a general acknowledgement that the pollutants and debris are not going away anytime soon, so the best approach is to make the existing catch basins perform better. The effect downstream will be an improvement, as noted in your post (aeration), but I expect the oil and debris in the lakes will be with us for a long time. …a problem for the next generation most likely.

  3. Love this post and informative comment Boatdog! This was the first park I ever camped out in during the 60’s and grade school picnics at the shelters. I believe the park was originally designed for the1890s’ Golden Age of Bicycles? I spent alot of time at Spring Park a little ways down creek from here when my mother was near the end at WMC. It was a real sense of comfort but the pollution of these once sacred places in our urban wetlands does break your heart. Boatdog photographs and walks his dog up creek from here so we are really documenting this land well. I love viewing this land so keep photographing, different views are wonderful. I waited all year to photograph the swamp azalea after seeing Boatdogs images.

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