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Friday, September 24, 2021

Underneath a massive, blue Americas Best Value Inn sign, streaming below a bridge on Southwest 13th Street, there is a narrow creek with an unusually green color.

Tumblin Creek was once a winding stream with twists and turns. However, the health of the creek watershed has continually degraded, and the city is now working to rejuvenate it.

Gainesville City Commissioner Lauren Poe said since he’s been on the Commission, city residents have wanted to see an improvement in the creek’s well-being.

“We need to fix up the system, so it works to keep the water quality high,” he said.

Keeping in mind the ecological and economic risks an unhealthy watershed can cause, the City Commission has given the city’s Public Works department the green light to begin the Tumblin Creek watershed project, according to a City of Gainesville memo.

The project aims to reduce the concentration of harmful nutrients brought on after a city project in 1964 redirected the creek’s flow straight into Bivens Arm using a raised bank called a berm.

Stefan Broadus, an engineer with Gainesville Public Works, said once the berm is removed, the creek will take its natural journey into the wetlands through Bivens Arm and eventually flow into Payne’s Prairie.

Broadus said the wetlands naturally treat the water, which increases the water quality to healthy levels by removing unnecessary nitrogen and phosphorus quantities. This allows for aquatic ecosystems to thrive.

At this moment, the concentration of nitrogen and phosphorus is too high for a water body of Tumblin Creek and Bivens Arm’s size to control, especially after both bodies of water receive runoff from storm water, said Assistant Public Works Director Don Hambidge.

Hambidge said while some nitrogen and phosphorus content in the city’s water bodies is good, an excess of these nutrients speeds up plant growth.

Additionally, Plan East Gainesville, a community-planned study funded by Alachua County and the city, reported nitrogen and phosphorus levels in the creek to be as high as 2.5 milligrams per liter and 0.7 milligrams per liter after a storm, respectively.

Hambidge said he attributes this large spike in nutrient concentration to the diversion of stormwater runoff from the wetlands. He estimates the project will be completed next year.

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“Once the designs are finished, we can get bids to start construction in January and then hopefully finish by summer,” he said.

Stewart Pearson, former stormwater manager for Gainesville Public Works, said this project would lead to better recreational opportunities in Bivens Arm and the surrounding area.

Even though the city has received several opportunities to fix the problem in the past, Pearson said the project will help improve water quality across the county.

“If it doesn’t get dealt with upstream,” he said, “it will be dealt with at the bottom end.”

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