MOBILE, Ala. – When the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Urban Waters Team received the 2017 Samuel J. Heyman People’s Choice Service to America medal, Sept. 27, for their efforts to revitalize our Nation’s urban waterways, there were some smiles in Atlanta, Ga. and Mobile, Ala.
One of the projects that the EPA included in support of the Urban Waters Team nomination was the Proctor Creek Ecosystem Restoration on Atlanta’s historic west-side. Since 2015, the City of Atlanta has been conducting a joint feasibility study with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Mobile District, to identify prospective solutions to decades of urban development that have left the fragile ecosystem reeling from habitat degradation and altered flow regimes.
“The EPA included us in their submission since we play a significant role in the Proctor Creek Urban Waters Federal Partnership,” said Todd Boatman, chief of the Mobile District Plan Formulation Branch. “Proctor Creek is the (project) that they led off with (and) is kind of the showcase for all of their other efforts.”
One of the reasons for the strong interest in Proctor Creek is the remarkable history behind the local area within the watershed.
“This is a historic watershed that includes the birthplace of Dr. Martin Luther King [Jr.] and is known as the cradle of the Civil Rights Movement,” Boatman said. “You have what was once a vibrant community, where people fished, played, and were baptized in Proctor Creek. Over the last few decades it has fallen under economic hard times, and urbanization has taken a toll.”
If approved, the proposed ecosystem restoration would help revive Proctor Creek and restore the habitat for a diverse array of wildlife that includes herons, ducks, beavers, otters, fish, snakes, as well as numerous other species.
“There are a lot of species that are disappearing in the watershed,” he said. “This projects gives us the opportunity to show the country that we can make a difference… and bring back the habitat and the species that lived in the watershed at one time.”
Delving further into the restoration process, Boatman stressed the important role that balance plays in the long-term survival of an ecosystem.
“When you look at the life-cycle of the big ecosystem it is all connected,” he explained. “If you don’t have healthy streams it not only affects what happens in Proctor Creek, but [also] what happens downstream in the Chattahoochee River. A relatively small project can play a role in preserving or restoring conditions in both Proctor Creek and the Chattahoochee.”
With federal, state and local agencies involved in the watershed’s restoration, it was important for the urban waters team to tackle the problem with a whole of government approach.
“We used a future directions initiative called Integrated Water Resource Management, or IWRM” he said. “That allowed us to bring in the other federal agencies associated with the urban waters team and the city, who in turn worked with other stakeholders and philanthropic groups. These stakeholders were engaged throughout the process instead of just doing our report in a vacuum. This allowed us to reach out and identify other problems in the watershed. And, where we don’t have a mission for those problems, we helped facilitate discussions with others who can address them.”
The study is tentatively scheduled for completion in March 2018 and if funding is allocated, the project could begin late next year. As the Corps of Engineers study nears completion, Boatman attributed much of its success to the members of his team.
“We’ve had some really innovative minds working on this project,” he said. “And the team has walked miles of streams, talked with numerous stakeholders, and reached out across the Corps to find solutions that could pave the way for future urban stream restorations. Without that dedication there is no way we would have been able to get this far.”