Lost Creek - Part 1

The Lost Creek project is located at the Santa Fe Elementary School in Cleveland County, Oklahoma, and is probably the most interesting project that I have been involved with.  The Santa Fe Elementary School is in the Moore School District but is physically located within the city limits of Oklahoma City.

Lost Creek is a small perennial stream that has been channelized and is a concrete ditch for most of its length.  It flows out of Moore as a concrete ditch and into Oklahoma City on the Santa Fe Elementary School grounds.  Through the school grounds (850 feet) the creek was channelized but not concrete lined.  It returns to a concrete ditch immediately upon leaving the school grounds.

As a result of the channelization, Lost Creek was experiencing severe bank erosion and “down cutting” of the channel such that a nine-inch sanitary sewer line and several abandoned oil and gas lines that previously crossed under the channel were suspended above the streambed.  Plus, a pedestrian bridge to the playground washed out and had to be replaced more than once.

I found out about the site by chance.  In February, 1996, A good friend of my wife’s, Jeni Ward, a teacher at the school had a paper from the school district discussing the creek problem and I saw it.  City Engineers were considering putting the entire 850 feet in a culvert.  Cost estimates approached $400,000.

The Oklahoma Conservation Commission Water Quality Division (OCCWQ), where I was working at the time, had received an EPA 319 grant to demonstrate how fluvial geomorphology could be used to stabilize stream banks and we were looking for sites to apply it too.  So, I went and looked at it.  It seemed perfect.  I talked to John Hassell, then Director of OCCWQ, and like always, he supported me completely.

The wheels were in motion.  The requisite surveys were conducted and calculations performed.  A design was prepared, flood models were run and permits were applied for.

Looking downstream, before construction.

Placing rock in step-pool.

This is harder than engineering.

E channel, root wads and willows.

C channel, cross-vane and willows.

Phone: 405-620-2004

E-mail: russ@riverman-engineering.com

“We forget that the water cycle and the life cycle are one.”

                                         Jacques Cousteau, Oceanographer

“The song of the river ends not at her banks but in the hearts of those who have loved her.”

                                 Buffalo Joe

“Serious problems cannot be dealt with at the level of thinking that created them.”  Albert Einstein

Location of Lost Creek project (red stars).

Looking upstream, before construction.

  Note exposed sewer line

Erosion of pedestrian bridge footing.

Surveying Lost Creek (February, 1996).

Surveying Lost Creek (February, 1996).

Along the way I had the good fortune of meeting Marcie Hronopulos, a teacher at Santa Fe Elemetary.  Marcie is a fireplug of a person, with seemingly endless energy.  Her determination and desire to turn the ditch on their school into an outdoor classroom allowed this project to happen.  In fact, it was Marcie and her students that officially filed with the USGS to name the creek as  Lost Creek.

Marcie worked with Jennifer Myers and developed a Blue Thumb program and the students distributed leaflets to everyone in the watershed.  They held an Earth Day Festival and invited Wayne Fjeseth of the NRCS Norman Field Service Center and myself to give presentations to the students.

Wayne did a great job exposing the kids to riparian plant and animal communities.  I used the chance to give them an introduction to fluvial geomorphology using a stream simulation table I had built similar to one promoted by the Missouri Department of Conservation.  The kids loved it.  And they learned. 

Stream simulation table.

I taught them how creeks naturally meander and develop riffles and pools, features that are  important for aquatic organisms, including insects, amphibians and fish.  Then I let them play and would point out how the “stream” responded to their actions, which was usually building ponds.  The sad thing is I had one 6th grader ask me, “Aren’t creeks supposed to be straight with concrete in them.”  I wanted to cry.  Poor kid had never had the opportunity to walk up a natural creek and catch frogs and crawdads and snakes, or have cat tail wars, in my opinion, pleasures no child should grow up without.

Another educational opportunity presented itself and I took it.  It occurred to me that all of the calculations that I was doing to classify the creek (entrenchment ratio, width-depth ratio, sinuosity and slope) used simple division, which is exactly the level of math that 6th graders are at.  I approached Marcie with the proposition that I could teach one class and teach them how to classify a creek and let them classify Lost Creek.  She thought it was a good idea, so I did.

Well, it so happens that the upper end of the site was classified as G6 and the lower as F6 so I gave them each a Rosgen classification key and showed them how I classified the upper end.  Their homework assignment was to classify the lower end.  I had fun and I think they got something out of it.  At least they got to see a real life application to what they were learning, a feature too often lacking in our education system.

The design objective was to raise the stream bed so as to cover the exposed sewer line and to create a meandering channel that would tie in with an existing remnant floodplain before stepping down into the concrete ditch downstream.  The channel type was to be a B6c at the upper end due to a constricted belt width, transition to a C6 in the middle reach and into an E6 before dropping into a step-pool B6 at the downstream end.  Two wetland ponds were also constructed, one designed to hold water year round, the other designed to dry up periodically.

Rosgen’s Classification Key for Natural Rivers.

Loading root wads from a site in Norman.

Crane moving pedestrian bridge.

We contracted with Tonto Construction from Muskogee, Oklahoma on an hourly basis for three excavators, a JD490,  a JD792 and a JD892, the latter two equipped with live thumbs, two JD544E loaders and a JD650G bulldozer.  They had been involved with the Echota Bend project and I liked the way they worked and now they had experience.

Before we started, the opportunity to get root wads came along when a forested area in Norman, a few miles south, was cleared to make way for a warehouse.  The trees were being piled up to be burned.  I talked to the operator, got the owners phone number and got  permission to take a many trees as I wanted.  The first phase of the project therefore entailed loading and transporting trees from the Norman site to the project site.  We started this on March 11, 1998.

Another task that had to occur before we could start work at the site was to remove the pedestrian bridge.  The Moore School District was responsible for this as part of the cost share agreement.  They hired a crane, cut it, and moved it out of the way.  They also removed fencing and a swing set.

On March 13, 1997, we started work at the site.  The first thing we did was remove exiting willows and set them aside in a wet area to keep their roots wet for replanting later and make a small pilot channel down the ditch to concentrate the water.  As the excavator got to the lower end he cut a phone line, despite the fact that we called Dig Okie.  Then when he was digging a ditch so the phone man could fix the line he cut a phone line.  Neither were marked. 

We started getting boulders, which for reasons I won’t go into, we were forced to obtain from  Fox Brick and Stone and although it was the nice hard red sandstone we wanted it cost us more than it should have.  Dan started shaping the upper end and placing rock.  Then it rained.  For two days it rained.  We were able to work on March 18, but rain that night shut us down again.  It was a blessing in disguise because by luck we discovered a gas line that crossed the channel.  The delay kept us from hitting it and possibly hurting someone.

Shaping the upper end.

Rain during construction.

Pump around set up.

We dammed the stream and pumped the water around the site so that we could dig out the gas line so the School District could replace it.  The shape of the pipe confirmed what I had been told, the pipe had been exposed by the creek and had to be repaired in the not so distant past.  Unfortunately, the repairs could not be repaired until after lunch on Monday.  The pump around in any event, turned out to be very helpful as it made for easier working conditions.

Perhaps the most challenging part of the project, other than difficulty of getting rock on site fast enough, was constructing the step-pool system.  I had never done one, nor had I been taught the details as to how to build one.  I talked to Rusty McGee, who had constructed some for Dave Rosgen for someadvice and then just winged it from there.  First we dug the steps and pools to a foot to two feet below the final grade.  Then we laid approximately 3,000 sqft of GTF-400EO woven monofilament geotextile, backfilled to grade and installed boulders to create a step-pool channel designed to resemble a series of natural sandstone rock ledges.

The most fun part of the project was probably constructing the ponds, because I got to do it.  Running an excavator is fun and not as easy as it looks.  I gained a lot of respect for the skill that a good operator possesses.  I used to say when I was operating a hoe that if you extend the boom all the way out and rotate 360o, nobody should get within that circle and that a good operator could shave you without leaving a scratch.

On March 26, 1998, when all was said and done, we had moved an estimated 2840 cu yds of dirt, had installed approximately 300 (2 x 3 x 4 ft) sandstone boulders in the step-pool, roughly 200 smaller boulders as rock vanes and cross vanes and twenty-five root wads.   We had also transplanted several willows that were previously growing at the site and constructed 2 wetland ponds.

But we weren’t quite done yet.  To see more of the story, proceed to Lost Creek 2.

Repairing the gas line.

Installing erosion control blanket in step-pool.

Backfilling in step-pool.


1504 Ann Arbor Drive

Norman, Oklahoma 73069-5363

Contact Us:

Phone: 405-620-2004

E-mail: russ@riverman-engineering.com

Lost Creek - 1

Lost Creek - 2

Lost Creek - 3

Lost Creek - 4