Restored Wetland Site Will Treat 20 Acres of Duke Campus Runoff

May 20, 2012

Tim Lucas, 919-613-8084,

DURHAM, NC – Work has begun to restore a wetland site along Duke University Road that, when completed, will significantly reduce pollution and erosion caused by stormwater runoff from 20 acres of Duke’s campus.

“Right now, people driving by the work site only see a big ugly hole, but when it’s done this will be an attractive, fully planted wetland and streambed complex that will provide a natural habitat for wildlife and protect downstream water quality,” said Curtis J. Richardson, director of the Duke University Wetland Center and professor of resource ecology at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment.

The restored site, which will include a half-acre treatment wetland, a half-acre of riparian wetlands and a re-contoured streambed, should cut sediment, nitrogen and phosphorus pollution by about half, Richardson estimated.

Currently, stormwater runoff from nearby campus parking lots enters the site through a pipe running under Duke University Road.  Years of unchecked runoff from the paved, impervious surfaces of the parking lots – which cover most of the 20 acres draining into the site – has stripped away most of the original vegetation and eroded the land to create a deep water channel, essentially turning it into a straight chute for pollution into nearby Sandy Creek, which empties into New Hope Creek and ultimately Jordan Lake, one of the Triangle’s most important drinking water supplies.

Excavation and re-contouring of the eroded water channel began in late April.  Construction of new berms and the restored wetlands will begin in June; replanting will begin after that, as weather permits.  It will take about a year to complete the restoration.

The restored site will be planted with seven species of native trees and more than two dozen species of non-invasive native grasses, shrubs and perennials, including swamp iris, swamp hibiscus, sweet flag, joe pye weed, fragrant white lilies and fringed sedge.

“This will be a fully functioning wetland ecosystem that incorporates best management practices, but it will also be a beautiful addition to the Durham landscape,” Richardson said.

The site is located in Duke Forest, and is part of Phase 5 of the Duke Stormwater Wetland Assessment and Management Park (SWAMP), a long-term research and teaching facility where Richardson and colleagues from numerous local schools and universities are testing best management practices for wetland and stream restoration and for treating urban runoff.

Students in Richardson’s “Wetlands and Stream Restoration” class helped design the Phase 5 site as a class project.  Most of the students were Master of Environmental Management students at Duke’s Nicholas School, but several were PhD engineering students from North Carolina State University.  Students will also help monitor the site’s effectiveness in coming years.

“This is the 13th year that students have helped design restorations on the campus,” Richardson said.

The restoration project is funded with a $370,000 grant from the Clean Water Management Trust Fund, and is being administered by Eddie Culberson, director of the Durham County Soil & Water Conservation District.

To learn more about the new project or the Duke Wetland Center, go to

Note: Curtis J. Richardson can be reached for additional comment at 919/613-8009 or