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During the second week of November, FLT’s Land Stewardship team and a number of partners completed a unique habitat restoration project in Powderly, west Birmingham. Seven Springs, one of numerous spring fed streams that dot the Magic City’s landscape, is home to the federally endangered watercress darter (Etheostoma nuchale). The springs have had several restoration efforts over the past twenty years, most notably the extensive and successful EcoScape project off of Cleburn Avenue, led by Faith Apostolic Church and supported by Freshwater Land Trust and the Southern Environmental Center.

The site of this month’s restoration work is 1,200 feet downstream of the Seven Springs EcoScape, on a heavily wooded stretch of the spring running through landowner Emily Godsey’s property. Here, a culvert built to allow water flow beneath a road sat perched about one foot from the surface of the stream. This posed a problem for any watercress darter attempting to navigate this section of the spring; tiny, two-inch fish wishing to head upstream to the EcoScape would have found a jump of twelve inches high to be impossible.

Perched culvert

The culvert was noted in FLT’s initial assessment of the property following the closing of our 26-acre conservation easement with Emily in 2021. Thanks to funding from two supplemental environmental projects (SEPs) secured by Black Warrior Riverkeeper as a result of pollution litigation, FLT was able to develop a restoration plan for the property in partnership with Emily and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).

Two-lined salamander, found during in-stream survey.

In-stream surveys were completed by USFWS ahead of the arrival of machinery; nets were installed upstream and downstream of the project site to prevent darters from entering the work zone. Wilbanks Engineering and Environmental Solutions handled the heavy lifting, which involved the installation of a series of rock vanes (horizontal, shallow “ledges” used to slow the flow of water.) Three of these were constructed within a 125-foot section of the spring downstream of the culvert. Slabs of rock provided by Vulcan Materials were laid atop a raised bed of packed dirt and backfilled with smaller rocks to create a “riffle”, a shallow section where the protruding rocks break the surface of the water, oxygenating the flow. Each of these structures worked to slow the flow of water in stages, allowing it to pool and thereby raising the level at the mouth of the culvert to only ~0.3 feet, a much less daunting distance for a small watercress darter making its way upstream.

Packing dirt for rock slabs.
Rock vane with riffle complete.

Future collaborative restoration efforts here will include invasive species management and erosion control. “It’s really inspiring how much a positive impact we can have on our important habitats when collaborating with such great partners,” said Sam McCoy, FLT’s Land Stewardship Director.

FLT thanks our valued partners for their assistance in this project: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Black Warrior Riverkeeper, Wilbanks Engineering and Environmental Solutions, Vulcan Materials, and Emily Godsey.

Culvert after stream restoration. Water level is raised to lessen distance from lip of pipe to the water’s surface.

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