A Vision for Sunset Village Creek

Vactor trucks for sewer maintenance
On http://www.vactor.com/, you can see these trucks are giant vacuum machines. I e-mailed a salesman. He told me that the trucks can still work if they have a long vertical pull. The brochure also says that Vactor works with clients to develop new solutions. I don't know if they can operate with extension hoses from Upland or Hillcrest, but I bet that they can (if they can deal with permission issues).

Sure, it would take the Engineering dept more time, and they might have to purchase expensive extension hoses, but I think we can make headway on the "maintenance issue.”
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Open flume for the stream
Essential to preserving the valley is for the stream to remain open, as it is between S. Owen Dr. and N. Sunset. I think we need to be creative so that it looks natural, perhaps even with holes in the flume’s wall so plants can grow. It shouldn't look totally uniform, like half a concrete pipe--but instead more natural. Using riprap of large stones, as they did for the “improvements” just north of the SW Bike Trail, would look horrible.

Access for construction equipment (and maybe Vactor trucks)
There is no need for a separate access road. Suppose that the reinforced "flume" or creek bed is about 6-8 feet wide, or in other words, the distance between the tires of a Vactor truck or between power shovel treads. So our "flume" can have two terraces on either side, one on the right bank for the right tread of the power shovel, and the other on the left bank for the left tread. One terrace might have a walkway, and the other might just have beds for native plants. These terraces would serve as the road for any future maintenance needed. Where the valley is deep, there would probably be some other terraces higher up, stabilizing the bank, and making the two lower terraces blend in so they looked part of a larger landscape. When construction is done, all that remains of the road is the two terraces on either side of the flume. If future construction or maintenance work is ever needed, the trucks will just come in. This won’t cause serious damage the plants if it's done in the cold months.

An alternate plan would be to make the bottom of the creek or flume relatively flat, large enough for a Bobcat, which would use the dry flume as a roadway.

Laying of new sewer pipes
If new pipes prove to be necessary, they could be incorporated into the terrace system, and be laid at the same time the terraces are constructed. For example, if a retaining wall is built for a terrace, the sewer pipes (running parallel to the creek and terrace walls) could be laid down behind the retaining wall, and then the earth filled in to make the terrace. In other words, in many places, you wouldn't even have to dig a trench for the sewer pipes--they would become part of terrace construction! Erosion control and new pipe burial as part of the same operation!

There could be sewage lines on either side of the creek--one for Upland and one for Hillcrest. Now, if Engineering doesn't like the idea of two sewer lines, then the pipe could be on one side, with spur lines crossing the flume. These crossing lines could be disguised as little bridges, or ironwork, or trellises with ivy growing over them.

Creative landscaping
What's needed to preserve the natural charm of the stream:

  • Greenery and trees. Ravines are lush places.

  • An open stream. Provides possibility for vegetation, flashes of light, and rushling sounds.

  • Stonework. Concrete alone will be very artificial and uniform. But we might have to compromise with stones over concrete.

  • Terraces. The ravine sides have to be shored up, which suggests terraces. They need to be varied, not uniform.

  • A curving stream. Variations. Maybe a waterfall. Much of the charm of the present ravine comes from the twists and turns. A straight sluceway is going to look like the gutter on your street--Godzillagutter.

In the flume, we could also design little waterfalls a few feet high. This would add to the sound of a natural creek. There should be ample places for vegetation to grow. Even the flume should have holes where plants and vines can take root. We need something more than a sterile, concrete sluiceway. Remember, until the watershed heals, this creek will be dry most of the time. If it’s just concrete, it will look like a sewer or a gutter.

A walkway?
I know this is a delicate issue--some residents do not want public access behind their properties. The advantages of having a path in the plan is that more people will support the plan, and there is a way to get in to care for the area. If security is an issue, then there could be gates on the path that close and lock at dark. Don't forget, if Engineering puts in a whole road.... then we might as well have a landscaped pedestrian path instead.

Name of the Creek
The name is important for building public support. Although the ravine in question runs between Upland & Hillcrest Drives, let's call it something more inclusive. The creek originates in Sunset Village, and the project is within Sunset Village. Creeks don't run on "uplands" or on the "hill's crest." So, why don't we call it "Sunset Village Creek?" And "Friends of Sunset Village Creek?" And, let's think of it as a greenway, not just a artery for sewage and stormwater.

Public activities in the park
Recently the nearly forgotten Glenway Children’s Park had its second annual Weed Feed, a gala affair with work projects, a children’s play, music, and a pot-luck. This is what gives your park credibility. One activity could be taking little kids (with a tour guide) on an amazing Amazon adventure, into the jungle that is the ravine. Another could be tours of the two properties between S. Owen and N. Sunset drives, if the owners are willing. The stream is beautiful there.

A Sunset Village Watershed Project
The creek is a mess in part because no one took ownership of it--no lone looked after it. It is also a "sick creek" because everywhere there's too much runoff from roofs and roads. We could address these larger problems, and in the process, provide a model project for the rest of the country.

There are several things unique about Sunset Village that make it possible for us to propose a larger project of watershed health:

For one thing, there are few curbs bordering the streets. So in many places, runoff from the streets & gutters could easily be channeled into a myriad of rain gardens. In the Vilas area, street runoff has been channeled into rain gardens. People who allow rain gardens (for street runoff) in their yards could receive reduced rates on their water bills.

Secondly, I think (need to verify) that the watershed for our little creek is nearly entirely within Sunset Village. So, it really could be a neighborhood project--a source of pride for all. Schools could have students work with the rain gardens or plantings in the ravine area.

Thirdly, the upper creek passes through a park, offering still more possibilities. One thing that creates a problem for watersheds is lack of storage for floodwaters. If there were a little pond in the park, it could store floodwaters, so the floods down the ravine wouldn't be as violent. And, the pond would also help to recharge the groundwater. The pond and the rain gardens don't have to happen now--they could be a later stage. With all the rain gardens and the pond, hopefully, the groundwater would recharge to the point that our little creek might flow more often.

There are still other possibilities to improve health of the watershed. For example, people could discharge "grey water" from washing machines into little rain gardens--so there would be less work for the city sewage plant, and more groundwater for our stream. Rain barrels attached to downspouts of residents on either side of the creek could discharge into the creek, or into terrace fern gardens along the ravine. The city might enter into a partnership with the suppliers and residents for all to share the costs of rainbarrels.

The neighborhood could create a little walking trail, a dashed line on the pavement, along with some pathways, that would trace the route of the stream, even where underground, and take the strollers past all the rain gardens. There could be plaques identifying the various plants in the rain gardens, and various issues of watersheds. There could be nesting platforms for Phoebes, which like to nest near streams. Finally, the strolling route would lead into the ravine itself.

Right now, the creek is a problem that many people want to bury and forget about. It's hard to fight that practical point of view--that by burying it, we deal with it once and for all. No more problems. No more expense. A way to fight this is to show that it is a resource for the whole community, a source of pride, and something that we can build on in the future, making it even better. When you have such a resource, you can't afford to destroy it.

Bury the stream—there still will be problems
Even though the stream in Glenwood Children’s Park was buried in the 1950s, ruining the plan that had been developed for the park by a renowned landscape architect, there are still problems. Last year, the pipe proved too small for a heavy flood, with water overflowing into the park, and now Peter Nause informs me that there is a sinkhole developing where one underground pipe has apparently rusted or collapsed.

Essential--time for planning!
Given the importance of this resource, and the creative possibilities, it's essential that we be given enough time to come up with an alternate plan. We should also encourage the City Council to pass a resolution that it's City Policy to preserve streams.

Our plan isn't as neat and tidy as the Engineering Department's. But it's possible that it could cost less--or at least not cost a lot more. We also need to do internet research to see what other communities have done.

These ideas are very preliminary. They may change as I hear from more people, learn more about sewage systems, and check my facts.

Links to an informative slide show:
Madison’s Urban Streams