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Stream projects protect local waterways

LAWRENCEVILLE -The health of Gwinnett County's streams isn't just a matter of beauty. And it isn't haphazard, either.

County employees have been working for years to protect and rehabilitate Gwinnett's waterways from erosion and pollution.

And they've even been able to create some new wetlands in the process.

Adam Minchey, the director of Gwinnett Water Resources' engineering and construction division, said a main goal of the department is to improve the natural habitats that are impacted by growth.

"We like to go one step above," Minchey said. "We like to leave a place in better shape than when we got there."

A lot has changed since sewage was dumped directly into the county's streams as recently as 50 years ago, Stormwater Management Engineer Pete Wright said. Since then, the county has gotten stricter and stricter about what must be done to protect the water.

"It's a part of our urban environment," he said.

That is evident in construction projects like the Mall of Georgia, with nearby Ivy Creek. All projects require stream buffers, but additional steps have been taken at some creeks to enhance their place in the community and keep them from experiencing more erosion.

At Ivy Creek, a walking trail was put in near the AMLI at Mill Creek apartment complex. Throughout the county, Wright said, various detention ponds and bank restoration projects have been implemented to keep creeks in good shape.

That keeps fish and animals in the water, Minchey said, and is a benefit to local residents, as well.

"If we get people interested, we get support," Wright said. "If we have support, we're able to do more."

Both said the county has been able to pilot a number of bank restoration programs, such as sod matting that will allow grass to grow without getting washed away in the rain and a polymer spray that encourages smaller molecules to stick together, also minimizing erosion.

New regulations, Wright said, should mean the county spends less money and effort on restoring streams in the future and is instead able to focus on keeping them in good shape before development wreaks havoc on them.

"In the '60s ... there were no stormwater controls at all," Wright said. "We're going back to try to protect these things."