A restoration project at Flat Creek, which flows through industrial midtown Gainesville, will help prevent erosion, a common problem with urban creeks.
The city partnered with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Winder-based Clean Water Consultants for the project, which started in January and is almost complete.
“We spend more time and money on treatment plants and pipelines, which are important parts, but maintaining the streams, and Flat Creek being the most important one, is really important to water quality so that we don’t have sediment and any other pollutant coming down the creeks through the city and county to the lake,” Linda MacGregor, Gainesville’s water resources director, said.
Joseph Carter of Clean Water Consultants said the project restored 1,762 feet of the stream. Additions include 13 rock structures, made from more than 300 tons of rock brought in from Tennessee, that keep the water from getting stagnant and introduce oxygen into the stream. More than 2,000 tons of riprap have also been added along the sides of the stream to help with erosion.
The slope of the land surrounding the creek was also lowered.
“If you had come out here two years ago, or just one year ago, this bank right here was straight up and down right there,” Micah Wiggins with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said at the creek Tuesday. “…The sediment, instead of eroding, is starting to deposit at the bottom of the bank, and that’s a really good thing.”
Flat Creek’s six-mile path through both the city and Hall County is surrounded by several industrial developments.
Both in Gainesville and nationwide, much industrial development came before environmental regulations such as the Clean Water Act. Now, pollution levels in Flat Creek and Lake Lanier are regularly monitored.
“We had a lot of development that we weren’t regulating, so we had a lot of storm runoff and streams that got eroded and washed out,” Wiggins said. “We saw that, and a lot of state and local governments, especially Georgia, said we’ve got to do something about this.”
But because the stream is in an urban area, runoff, litter and pollution still makes its way into the water, and erosion can become a problem.
“What happens with urban streams, is after a rain, it gets a lot of flow, and that erodes the banks. … The stream provides a lot of ecological services,” MacGregor said. “If those high flows erode the stream, then those ecological services are not being provided by the stream.”
The creek has been the focus of several previous cleanup efforts.
A litter trap installed in 2015 along Old Flowery Branch Road stops trash before it goes farther downstream into Lake Lanier. In 2015, an old fire pond that had served the Gainesville Mill off Marler Street and Georgia Avenue was drained, and crews cleaned up the stream around Hancock and Georgia avenues.
The next step for the current project is tree planting along the creek.
A federal grant is helping pay for the project, and the city’s contribution is expected to be about $834,000, MacGregor said.