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Changing the Flow: A Holistic Solution to a Stormy Problem


LSI colorful
The restored floodplain slows down the water, keeps the soil in place, and creates wildlife habitat. Photo courtesy of LandStudies, Inc.

Just a few blocks from Lancaster City is the home of CBF members Paul and Judy Ware. Their five-acre property along Marietta Avenue was falling prey to an all-too-familiar marauder—stormwater runoff

Velocity, as it turns out, was not only moving pollutants and debris downstream, but also the Wares' front yard.


Pre construct LSI credit
Before the Wares embarked on this project, rushing water during storms was eroding away their property. Photo courtesy of RGS Associates.

On any given day the flow of this spring-fed, unnamed tributary to the Conestoga River would be considered a lazy meander, but that's definitely not the case during heavy rain events. Velocity, escalated by the channeling-by-design function of a culvert beneath Marietta Avenue, transformed the gentle spring-fed stream into a roaring river. Over time, the Wares were left with an eroded, severely channelized stream with six-foot banks. The creek, the waterways downstream, and the Bay, were left with excess sediment and polluted run-off. 

Mr. Ware worried on several levels: for the safety of his 7-year-old grandson who loves to look for frogs and other critters; for the erosion of his property; and for the water quality of the creek itself. Mr. Ware, who also owns property in Maryland, understands the connection between our actions here in Pennsylvania and the potential impacts downstream. He decided that the solution to their stormwater woes was to transform it from a burden into an asset. 


This culvert continues to serve as the main transport of water beneath Marietta Avenue and onto the Wares' property, but it no longer has an eroding effect on the property. Photo by Kelly Donaldson/CBF Staff.

So Paul and Judy called upon the expertise of John Hershey, Client Manager for RGS Associates, Inc., and LandStudies Inc., to design an alternative. The conventional solution would be to add-on to the already existing stormwater detention basin, which was situated near the culvert. Considered the status-quo for dealing with stormwater run-off, these basins are designed to hold onto the increased flow while allowing pollutants and sediment to settle out. But for the Wares, a bigger basin in their front yard was anything but palatable.

Looking through a big-picture lens, Mr. Hershey and LandStudies approached the project with a holistic mindset.

Their plan: deconstruct the existing stormwater retention basin, restore and reconnect the stream to its floodplain, plant native pollution-filtering plants, and establish wetlands for additional filtering and for enhanced wildlife habitat.

Their goal:  create a slower, healthier, meandering stream that would naturally handle increased flow, even during heavy rains, without eroding away the property. By re-establishing a natural floodplain the Wares would handle their stormwater in a natural, greener way.


Paul Ware (left) and John Hershey, Client Manager for RGS Associates, Inc. Photo by Kelly Donaldson/CBF Staff.

To Paul, who enjoys the challenge of finding creative solutions to everyday problems, it was an investment that made sense. This was not just a solution to the problem on his property, but also an opportunity to inspire his neighbors and the community to maybe think a little differently about how we "handle" water. 

The Wares' next project: establishing a rain garden to help hold and filter water.

For Mr. Ware, he says that he no longer worries; the frogs have returned, the ever-changing colors of the plantings and flowers are a joy, and he knows that not only is his grandson safe, but that the water on his property and downstream is now cleaner.

Congratulations and thank you to the Wares' for their efforts to improve local water quality and the Chesapeake Bay.

—Kelly Donaldson

The project was supported by Lancaster Township, and it's believed to be the first of its kind in Pennsylvania where a municipality permitted the removal of a traditional suburban stormwater basin in favor of floodplain restoration. 




This project serves as an excellent reminder that keeping soil in place and out of our streams can have multiple water quality benefits. Photo by Kelly Donaldson/CBF Staff.



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