Restoration Of South Creek: An Update

Nov 22, 2019

If you stand along South Creek just east of Campbell and look west, it’s hard to imagine that just a short time ago, the stream was just a concrete channel with water flowing down the middle.  Now, in the warmer seasons, it’s a lush landscape with native plants, birds, butterflies and other wildlife.

A project to restore part of Fassnight Creek near the Springfield Art Museum will be similar to the project done here at South Creek along Sunset between Campbell Avenue and Kansas Expressway.  This restoration project was finished just over three years ago, in late October, 2016.

Since then, tests have shown water quality has improved, and native plantings are attracting wildlife, including pollinators.

The creek was converted to a concrete channel years ago to help with flood control. But Sarah Davis, stormwater specialist for the City of Springfield, said the way cities approach floodwater control has changed over time.

"At first we thought it was important to get the water shot through as quickly has possible during rain events, but, really, we're seeing now it's better to treat it at the source and with these green infrastructure practices like this," she said.

In recent months, signs educating visitors about the importance of planting for pollinators and about the project and the benefits it provides have been place along the creek.

And a water quality crew at the city handles maintenance on the restored section of South Creek.

There are different levels of restoration at the creek, according to Davis. 

"The midsection of South Creek, it has more engineered devices like log structures that create riffles in the creek, drop pools that create more habitat for smaller fish," she said.

The upper section, closer to Campbell, had the concrete removed, and the area revegetated itself. Native plant species, including milkweed, now grow on the previously concrete streambanks. 

Davis said they’ve added around 10,000 plants to the creek.  Vegetation helps with water quality since it allows stormwater containing urban pollution like trash and oil and grease from vehicles to be filtered before it seeps into the ground.

Since the South Creek restoration was finished, Davis said the area’s natural habitat has continued to reestablish, "so that there is room for the macroinvertebrates to grow, which is the base of the food web, and then also create habitat for pollinators and birds and all of the wildlife in the area," she said.

Macroinvertebrate sampling on South Creek by the James River Basin Partnership, has shown a vast improvement since the restoration project was done.  A chart provided by the city shows a poor or fair rating for macroinvertebrates prior to the change and a good to excellent rating after. 

Chris Dunnaway, principal stormwater engineer for the City of Springfield, said improving the water quality in South Creek impacts more than just the stream.  The creek feeds into Wilson’s Creek downstream, which is on the Missouri Department of Natural Resource’s 303d list of impaired waterways because of nonpoint source pollution. 

Fassnight Creek also feeds into Wilson’s Creek, and he hopes that project will also have a positive impact on water quality.

If you want to know what the Fassnight Creek restoration project might look like near the art museum, Dunnway said to look at South Creek, although the banks will be steeper. 

Meanwhile, Davis is pleased with what’s happened at South Creek in the last four years.

"The creek is following its path.  It is continuing to naturalize and find its shape, which is really cool to see over time," she said.  "You'll see some of this upper section has kind of washed gravel in.  It's making natural gravel banks.  It's continuing to have these pools downstream, so it's just been a very successful project to see the stream regain itself over time."

She believes the restoration of South Creek and other similar restorations in the city improve the quality of life for Springfield residents.