In the course of advocating for a better plan for Happy Creek, we heard a lot of misconceptions, some specific to this project and others misunderstanding the function of a riparian buffer. We hope this can serve as a resource for those who want a better plan for Happy Creek.
Creeks fill in with sediment just like a drainage ditch, so sediment needs to be removed periodically.
The amount of sediment in a creek depends on conditions upstream. If a stream is lined with a healthy riparian buffer of trees and shrubs, the soil is held in place and erosion is minimized, reducing sedimentation and the amount of maintenance needed downstream.
If stream banks are not cleared of brush and debris, they will continue to grow up and eventually flood the area or downstream, causing damage.
Maintenance of a healthy riparian buffer may be needed occasionally but the trees and shrubs still work very efficiently in controlling flooding.
Trees and shrubs provide habitat for animals that we may not like.
Removing a riparian buffer is not a good way to control wildlife, particularly considering the many benefits of the buffer. Wildlife is generally attracted to urban areas by trash/food scraps.
Brush collects trash that looks bad.
Riprap also collects trash and can be even more difficult to keep clean of trash and maintain.
Why is this section of Happy Creek so important?
This section is not any more important than the rest of Happy Creek. Watershed management entails a holistic approach by looking at the dynamics of the entire stream system – upstream and downstream.
The area had been neglected for 17 years so had to be cleared out.
False: Community volunteers under the supervision of the town horticulturalist (position vacant since 2019 when volunteer maintenance ceased) contributed hundreds of hours to this section of Happy Creek, removing invasive species, planting trees, etc. Was more work needed? Yes, but clear-cutting was not the appropriate response.
Other streams have riprap, what is wrong with it?
Riprap provides no benefit to ecology – no food, no habitat, no shading of the stream, no access for humans, etc., and is often less effective at reducing sedimentation and flooding than a healthy riparian buffer. Riprap may be needed in limited areas but is neither needed nor desired along this entire stretch of Happy Creek. In any case, engineering studies are required to determine whether and how much riprap may be needed. No engineering studies were performed to determine the degree of sedimentation and flooding in this section of the creek.
Isn’t flood damage more expensive than riprap?
It is not a choice of either having riprap or flooding. A healthy riparian buffer is the least expensive form of flood control.
The Town got the permits needed for the work- what is the problem?
Questions remain on the permitting process: the permit application lacked required information, sufficient documentation, and a complete description of the scope of work.
The engineer who drew up the plans has 33 years of experience – wasn’t the plan a good one?
The plan does not adhere to current natural stream design standards which are less expensive than armoring the streambanks with riprap.
Why didn’t the community speak up about the work prior to it happening?
A public notice ran in the Northern Virginia Daily prior to the work beginning and a notice was posted on the Town’s website. Notices of the planned work were not posted on the site, as required by law, until December 28, two months after the project start. For those who may have seen the notices, the wording did not indicate the full scope of the intended work, and the notice on the Town’s website specified that trees no larger than 4 inches would be cut, however, more than 161 trees exceeding 4 inches were cut by the contractor and town crew.
Is more clear-cutting planned along Happy Creek?
Potentially, yes. We will keep you posted if/when we learn of plans to destroy more trees along Happy Creek.