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Watershed Protection sets high bar for restoring Waller Creek

Friday, September 3, 2021 by Amy Smith

With the city and its public and private partners out to restore and enhance the Waller Creek delta that runs from Fourth Street to Lady Bird Lake, the southern stretch of Waterloo Greenway is due for more work.

This section of the creek holds the dubious distinction of being one of the five worst erosion sites in the city, according to the Watershed Protection Department’s citywide assessment of creeks.

Project Manager Diana Wang of Watershed provided a high-level report to the Environmental Commission Wednesday, securing the commission’s unanimous support of the creek delta project as the plan goes before various boards and commissions.

Wang pointed out the creek’s failed slopes, exposed utilities and crumbling infrastructure – not a pretty picture for a creek that flows into Lady Bird Lake near the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center. The MACC Advisory Board previously gave the project its recommendation.

“Unlike a more typical restoration project, what restoration means here is really reconstructing the slopes and in some ways, kind of starting from scratch,” Wang said.

The work carries “an incredible amount of constraints when you’re not only in an urban environment, but downtown,” she added. Even with those challenges, Watershed is working toward obtaining gold-level “sustainable sites” certification, one of the categories under the LEED rating system that applies to parks and creeks.

“That includes taking a softer approach in how we stabilize our slopes, using natural materials to shore up those slopes by using vegetation, and avoiding hard walls and concrete as much as we could,” Wang told the commission.

Understanding what native wildlife and vegetation need to survive and thrive is key to achieving a successful outcome.

With Watershed expected to bid the project early next year, the completed restoration will, if all goes as planned, provide an easy-on-the-eyes amenity for visitors to the MACC, which is entering its second phase of development. The convention center is also set for expansion and there’s the possibility of a Project Connect station coming to the area. Several multi-use private projects in the area are also in the hopper.

“Of course another goal,” Wang added, “is bringing people back to the creek and connecting people within the city to nature.”

Photo courtesy of Watershed Protection Department.

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