Columbia Star

1963        Celebrating 60 Years      2023

Stream Daylighting

Smith Branch in Paige Ellington Park after daylighting

Smith Branch in Paige Ellington Park after daylighting

When humans stopped wandering the planet and began looking for places to put down roots, each group invariably settled near running streams of water. Like all mammals, water is essential to survival.

Almost immediately, water became an issue for these larger groups of humans, now stationary. There is evidence of water storage as far back as 3000 B.C., in the Indus Valley civilization. As time passed and these small settlements grew into towns, cities, and eventually, thriving metropolitan areas, water storage facilities began appearing wherever people settled. The existing streams that had provided water for generations became places to dump trash and waste.

While urban wetlands were mostly drained to gain space for further urban growth, resulting in their definitive removal, thousands of urban streams were buried, placed into concrete canals, or covered over. Stream flow was altered or stunted until the stream and surrounding area was no longer necessary or naturally functioning.

As these large population centers grew, more emphasis was placed on the city than the surrounding natural space and the polluted, dying creeks and rivers were used to divert waste and rain runoff to their original source out of sight of the local citizens. Soon these places were forgotten.

In the 1970s, nature began making a comeback. All across the planet, people began thinking of ways to clean up and heal their living space. Many of the long held beliefs about where man stood in the interaction with the natural world began changing. The Napa Creek near San Francisco became the first documented daylighted stream during that time.

Stream daylighting is simply removing streams from buried conditions and exposing them to the earth’s surface in order to directly or indirectly enhance the ecological, economic, and socio-cultural well-being of a region and its inhabitants.

Here in the Midlands, local entities have been working to return streams to their natural state for several years. Todd Martin, landscape architect and project manager with the Columbia Parks and Recreations Department, has been busy improving streams where conditions allow. Joshua Robinson, with Robinson Design Engineers, has also had a hand in several Stream Daylighting projects.

Hyatt Park, located on North Main Street has been transformed by the daylighting of a small stream that runs through the park and into Smith Branch, which eventually empties into the Broad River just above the canal, which is where the Columbia water supply comes from.

According to Warren Hankinson, Columbia’s Watershed coordinator, the old policy of burying stream in rock or concrete blocked the natural use of the stream from pollinators and other creatures, but more importantly, created a system where pollutants from rainwater runoff gathered and were never filtered out of the stream before being deposited into the river that stream eventually emptied into.

Before daylighting, the Hyatt Park stream was only visible through a series of concrete manhole covers above the ground. Now there is a running stream bordered by wildflowers and inhabited by wildlife from the land, water, and air.

Martin credits the Hyatt Park Community with initiating the stream daylighting project saying, “ The community was the driving force behind the project and really liked and got behind the idea of having the stream run through Hyatt Park.”

Mimi Draft, president of the Hyatt Park/Keenan Terrace Neighborhood Association said it was “really nice to not have to leave the community” to find a natural setting with water running through the park. “Fresh air and nature are really good about helping people get a better routine going on.”

Rocky Branch runs through Martin Luther King Park and was partially daylighted shortly after the turn of the century. According to Columbia assistant park superintendent

Karen Kustafik, while the stream still suffers from some pollution, the change rendered by daylighting has slowed down floodwater flow, filtered much of the pollution runoff from parking lots and concrete, and made improvements to the ability of the park to provide enjoyment for nearby residents and visitors.

In addition, this creek flows into Maxcy Gregg Park where another stream daylighting project is in progress. That project should further protect the water passing through Rocky Branch and into The Broad River. Kustafik adds, “The thought that because we’ve lost so much habitat, that if we move from a culture of maintaining grass lawns and start letting some of that go wild and begin bringing in native plants and shrubs we can see some of that payoff. We can offset some of the large loss with many small actions.”

Smith Branch in Paige Ellington Park and the Bull Street Campus are also examples of stream daylighting, and there are other upcoming projects in the Midlands that are designed to open streams back up to a natural state.

Anyone interested in trying to identify and daylight a covered stream can contact Columbia’s Parks and Recreation Department or the Richland County Public Works Department. Enjoying a picnic next to a manhole cover isn’t very soothing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.