319 Water Quality Project in University City

319 Water Quality Project in University City

For a quick guide for community leaders committed to safe drinking water, review
River Des Peres – Southwest Branch
Water Quality Improvement Project

The City of University City has been awarded a grant from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (the department), Division of Environmental Quality and Water Protection Program WPP). This grant is to protect and improve the quality of water entering of the River Des Peres by identifying and implementing systems to prevent nonpoint source contaminants throughout the watershed from entering the receiving tributaries. The grant funds 60 percent of the total project costs; the City match is 40 percent of the total project costs.

The River Des Peres watershed is a 114 square-mile area. The River Des Peres is listed on the 2002 303(d) list for low dissolved oxygen (DO), with the source of impairment being urban nonpoint sources. The river extends approximately 20 miles through St. Louis County and the City of St. Louis before discharging into the Mississippi River. The University City branch of the watershed encompasses 8,200 acres in east central St. Louis County. Land in the watershed falls in hydrologic unit code (HUC) 07140101070003 and is almost completely developed. One-third of the watershed area is within University City’s jurisdiction. University City has a population of approximately 35,000 residents with diverse religious, ethnic and racial backgrounds.

Two segments of the river that are on the 303(d) list are in HUC 07140101070003, one going through University City and the other within the City of St. Louis boundary. The impaired segments of the River Des Peres are not classified waters because they only flow during storm events and do not maintain pools that support aquatic life. The classified portion of the River Des Peres is within HUC code 0714010107004 and is the downstream-most 2.5 miles of the river, which is approximately 12 miles downstream of a USGS sampling site. The project area focuses on the River Des Peres  segments within University City.

Part of the project area is in Ruth Park Woods which has a mulch pile processing site, and Ruth Park Golf Course located along Olive Boulevard, east of I-170. The southwest branch tributary runs from west to east for approximately 2,500 feet along the northern edge of the study-area between McKnight Road and Olive Boulevard. The river is conveyed in a concrete channel upstream of the project area and enters a culvert just downstream of the project area. The left bank is nearly vertical, devoid of vegetation with an apparent scour line at higher flows. The right bank is steep and over 25 feet high. It has little vegetation with fallen mature trees up to one foot in diameter at breast height. Severe erosion is evident on both slopes.

Water quality degradation to the River Des Peres project area is affected by on-site factors such as stream bank erosion, rill and gully erosion, and contamination from the mulch pile and golf course. Off-site factors include upstream residential areas and businesses, combined sewer overflows and storm water created by a large impervious area.


The major goal of the project is to protect and improve the quality of water entering of the River Des Peres by identifying and implementing systems to prevent non-point source contaminants throughout the watershed from entering the receiving tributaries. This will be accomplished through specific objectives as follows:


1. To reduce the pollutant load to the river by educating 35,000 residents, 500 businesses, and 300 city employees about preventive measures that can reduce or prevent NPS pollutants that they can control from reaching the river.

2. Exhibits will rotate through local places of interest and public facilities such as the public library, University City Loop, Olive Business District, the Green Center, City Hall, University City Recreation Center, and local schools. This will consist of a freestanding display that will have photos, articles, and descriptions of what individuals can do to clean up and protect River Des Peres. The information on these boards will be updated quarterly and include progress of the project.

3. As part of the education process the City will provide demonstration tools and training aids for residents, students, businesses, the general public and interested parties, other municipalities, engineers, landscapers and developers about preventing, controlling and/or abating non-point source water pollution.

4. Presentations to community groups that would be interested about the project.

5. A dedicated web page with links to other partners that describes the overall goals of the project, and the project and the project progress will be established on the city’s web site.

6. Develop and install signs to advertise and educate the public about the project.


7. To provide a test site to evaluate various bioremediation techniques that can be used to improve water quality, and to determine which techniques work best so they can be used throughout the watershed. Bioremediation, bio-swales, detention ponds, grass filters, and stream bank stabilization practices are some of the practices that may be implemented. Assessments will be conducted before and after installation to evaluate effectiveness along with photos and site reports.

8. To implement a demonstration project with up to three residential properties within the project area that shows homeowners how to reduce storm water runoff that contributes to erosion and sedimentation.


9. To identify which and where nonpoint source (NPS) contaminants are entering the River Des Peres through testing and monitoring at least 4 segments of the river over the four year project period which can be used for before and after comparison of impacts of the project on water quality.

10. To provide planning, design, operation, and maintenance narratives on efficacy of BMP practices and/or BMP systems, construction plans, and monitoring that is completed in the watershed for practices that do not have established standards and specifications.


11. Implement and test selected best management practices (BMPs) to help restore and maintain some of the watershed’s original characteristics and prevent future degradation of habitat and water quality.

12. To use the Ecosystem Management Plan for Ruth Park Woods as a guide to determine site location and which BMPs will be best for implementation.

Pilot Water Quality Program

The Pilot Water Quality Program allowed participates to easily maintain and control storm water on their property. Storm water management projects included:

1. Installed 4 rain gardens – features that use natural stones, landscape media such as sand and mulch, and a variety of native vegetation to filter water.

2. Installed 2 swales – features contouring of land over a long linear area using native vegetation to filter water.

3. Installed 1 storm water pond – collection area used to retain, filter and disperse water during rainfall and gardens.

4. Installed 65 rain barrels – small collection device to collect and filter rain water. Water can be used later on landscaping and gardens.

The City received a sub-grant to implement water quality enhancement projects in (and around) University City. The goal of the project was to protect the River Des Peres. Participants received:

1) A free consultation on how to filtrate and/or manage storm water on their property, and 2) A storm water management practice was installed on their property. Participants were required to provide feedback on their project. For more information contact the Public Works Department at 505-8562 or email jwendt@ucitymo.org. Funding for the pilot project ended June 1, 2011.

Examples: Rain Gardens

A “rain garden” is a man-made depression in the ground that is used as a landscape tool to improve water quality. The rain garden forms a “bio-retention area” by collecting water runoff and storing it, permitting it be filtered and slowly absorbed by the soil.

The rain garden at Centennial Commons was installed to solve a variety of problems, including erosion, poor drainage, and water quality and storm water runoff. When it rains, the rainwater from the roof drains into the garden to water the native plants and trees. The rain garden will prevent water from entering the parking lot.

Rain Barrel Project:

A rain barrel collects and stores rainwater from rooftops to use later for lawn and garden watering. Water collected in a rain barrel would normally pour off roof directly or flow through roof gutter downspouts and become storm water runoff.

Rain barrels are another sustainable infrastructure solution that controls storm water runoff, improves water quality in local lakes and streams and saves money by collecting rainwater and storing it for later use. The water store in rain barrels is excellent for watering thirsty plants around your home or in your garden because of its slight acidity, which helps plants absorb the soil’s minerals, and because it contains no added chemicals. By disconnecting your downspouts and redirecting water into a rain barrel and rain garden, you can do your part to protect water supply.

Green Center 8025 Blackberry Avenue, July 2008, 

8025 Blackberry Avenue  8025 Blackberry Avenuearea for the rain garden, volunteers install drainage pipe, volunteers plant native plants

8025 Blackberry Avenue8025 Blackberry Avenue8025 Blackberry Avenue

1130 Wilson Avenue, before after; rain garden with earth berm and dry creek bed1130 Wilson Avenue1130 Wilson Avenue1130 Wilson Avenue

1092 Wilson Avenue, before after; rain garden with earth berm and dry creek bed1092 Wilson Avenue1092 Wilson Avenue1092 Wilson Avenue

7834 Cornell Avenue 7834 Cornell Avenue

7438 Milan Avenue 7438 Milan Avenue

1100 W. Parkedge1100 W. Parkedge

7819 Trenton Avenue7819 Trenton Avenue 

7830 Cornell Avenue7830 Cornell Avenue