Wheaton Branch Stormwater Retention Ponds Help Keep Creek Just Right

Water quality is significant when it comes to a healthy ecosystem. In order for the freshwater wildlife to thrive, the water in Sligo Creek has to be just right. Stormwater retention ponds like the ones on Dennis Avenue in Wheaton work hard to make that happen.

According to Friends of Sligo Creek, these ponds were created in 1990 as a “three-cell wet pond to provide water quality controls.” The water flow is a result of major runoff from the Wheaton Mall area all the way to Dennis Avenue and into the retention ponds. These three ponds would hold a large sum of water from storms and slowly filter it into Sligo Creek. Filtering this water at a slower rate is beneficial to the ecosystem and reduces pollution as a result of runoff from neighboring development. This system is capable of providing storage of water from massive rainstorm events that only happen once every 100 years. Not only can it retain water from these extreme storms, but it is also capable of accepting water from an 800-acre watershed.

The ponds themselves provide a way of filtering this water in order to decrease the amount of pollutants. When I came to see “Pond 1,” I noticed a lot of debris and litter. The ponds make it possible for large, solid pollutants to fall towards the bottom and accumulate. The local vegetation was thriving when I visited, which is actually another form of filtration. Plants require dissolved nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous for food. Therefore, when these nutrients in fertilizer and other forms of landscape “enhancers” enter the water system, there is a large jump in nutrients as a result. The vegetation sucks up all these nutrients and filters them before the excess of chemical agents enters the natural Sligo Creek.

As I walked towards the top of the hills overlooking the last pond (before entering Sligo Creek), I witnessed two foxes cautiously watching me. I grabbed my camera and from a distance was able to capture one picture of them before they ran off into the brush. These ponds provide habitat for an abundance of wildlife. I got to see other mammals such as geese, herons and other birds); insects including bees, flies, and all the other creepy crawlers; and fish — small fish coming up to the surface of the final pond.

I did not see or find any frogs or toad.

One of the most important animals that expose a healthy environment is the amphibian, such as frogs and toads. Amphibians are nature’s signs of a healthy environment because they require water and land in their stages of life. Frogs, for example, begin the early stages of their lives as tadpoles in shallow waters. Once again, there must be a healthy water system in order for the tadpoles to survive. Transitioning into frogs, the amphibians move onto land where the land must have a healthy environment for them to survive. That is why amphibians are a great sign of a healthy environment.

Without finding any frogs or tadpoles by these retention ponds, I inferred that this environment is not extremely healthy. However, this does not mean that there was not an abundance of wildlife. There was an abundance of Canada Geese. I approached the edge of the last pond and a flock swam towards me. One came a little closer than the others and I photographed his puzzled, curious, posture. I also walked by a couple of ducks chilling by the first pond in the three-cell pond system. They seemed completely comfortable with the fact that there was a lot of solid waste gathering around that one area. There could be some competition in who gets to swim in which pond because in each pond held a different group: Pond 1 contained the three ducks, pond 2 was home to a larger flock of Canada geese, and pond 3 was another (possibly different) group of Canada Geese.

Along the upper walkway between the first and second pond, there was an overgrowth of plants. One was the more popular plant, the milkweed. On the budding flowers of this plant, I photographed a bumblebee on his daily job. Bees are another extremely important animal along with frogs. Some plants, in order to create seeds/offspring, require pollination. Bees are one of the main insects that provide this service to the plants. This relationship is mutually beneficial. Bees receive nectar and/or pollen to provide for their colonies, and the plants are able to spread their pollen in order to reproduce.

At first glance, the three ponds seem very random and man-made. But, once you venture down towards each pond and see the abundance of wildlife, they are truly remarkable. Biodiversity is important in any ecosystem. It provides for a healthy ecosystem where organisms such as plants and animals can thrive together. If you haven’t visited the Dennis Avenue retention ponds, you should head that way. There’s so much more to the natural world than initially meets the eye. The more you look, the more you’ll discover.

Michael Petrizzo is an Eye On Sligo Creek summer intern, photographer and environmental science major at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. We’ve asked him to go for walks in the woods to share what he sees. See more of his work on Instagram at @mtp.photo, and more EOSC photos on Instagram at eye_on_sligo_creek.


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