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A Watershed Moment

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When the ribbon was cut on the Rocky Branch project, the stream that flowed through the heart of North Carolina State University was restored, but the university was transformed. Thirty years ago, Rocky Branch was given the dubious distinction of being the “most polluted stream” in the state of North Carolina. Today, it’s a model of restoration practices for the region. Before the restoration, the rain that fell during storms was considered a problem. The university’s management strategy was to get the rain off campus as quickly as possible. After the restoration, however, facilities management had a new appreciation for the rain that fell on campus. Watch as a university rises to the challenge of caring for the water that cycles through campus. This video is part of the Surface Water  series.

Pre-viewing Questions

  • Imagine you are a civil engineer with earth-moving equipment. How would you restore a stream?
  • Imagine you’re a landscape architect. How would you design a rain garden?

Discussion Questions

  • Why has rain traditionally been a problem for cities?
  • How did the university manage streams in the past?
  • What methods did the university use to restore Rocky Branch Creek?
  • How were university organizations and students involved in the restoration of the area between the dorms?
  • What methods are now used to collect rainwater?

Post-viewing questions

  • Why do you think the stream restoration changed the way the university handles stormwater?

Extension Activity

  • Design a rain garden for your school.

Links to Learn More

  • Model My Watershed, Stroud Water Research Center This innovative and intuitive Web-based hydrologic model uses real GIS data and an authentic, professional-grade model to illustrate the impact of current land use on local hydrology. It allows users to change local conditions to see how best management practices decrease runoff.
  • Urban Stream Restoration: A Focus on Rocky Branch, North Carolina Sea Grant This PowerPoint presentation shows before and after images of the Rocky Branch restoration in Raleigh, North Carolina.
  • Adopt Your Watershed, EPA This database of watershed groups tells you where to find out how to participate as a volunteer in water quality monitoring, stream cleanups and storm drain marking.
  • Water Quality Assessment, EPA This site provides information reported by each state about the conditions in the surface water.
  • Raincatchers, UNC-TV An educational "kit" about how the City of Durham, North Carolina is evaluating the benefits of rain gardens in a cluster of  yards.  Digital kit includes a 5-minute video, pdf infographic, photogallery, and career biography of a water quality engineer.

Next Generation Science Standards

  • Performance Expectation: Evaluate or refine a technological solution that reduces impacts of human activities on natural systems. HS-ESS3-4
  • Disciplinary Core Idea: The sustainability of human societies and the biodiversity that supports them requires responsible management of natural resources. ESS3.C
  • Crosscutting Concept: Stability and change
  • Engineering Practice: Constructing explanations and designing solutions


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