Ecological Reconciliation: Stroubles Creek

Ecological Reconciliation: Stroubles Creek

This week the BioBuild Lab ventured to Stroubles Creek to observe the impairment of various sections of the creek, and to raise awareness among the class of local ecological issues.

Brief Background

Stroubles Creek runs through the town of Blacksburg and underneath Virginia Tech’s campus. It is a tributary of the New River (which is the source of municipal water for the town of Blacksburg). The New River is a tributary of the Mississippi River, and eventually discharges into the Gulf of Mexico. Stroubles Creek has been designated as an impaired waterway by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (VADEC) and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) since 2002. Some causes of its impairment include pollutant buildup on impervious surfaces, sewer overflows, increasing development, and stormwater runoff. As we saw in class, one way to test the level of impairment is by studying the insect species in the creek.


Reconciliation ecology refers to the branch of ecology that studies the ability of humans and wildlife to live side by side, even in human-dominated ecosystems. This means that many traditional land use methods need to be redesigned so that wildlife, such as the water insects we collected in the lab, can thrive on their own. This new concept was popularized by Michael Rosenzweig’s book Win-Win Ecology. As discussed in class, there is a lot of value in setting aside certain areas for the protection of its existing state in an effort to protect the area’s ecological assets for present and future generations. There are multiple ecological reconciliation concepts to consider in the built environment: greenways, buffer zones, regenerative gardening, green roofs, riparian buffers, and more.

Specifically for Stroubles Creek, creating a riparian buffer zone (vegetative areas surrounding water) would have many benefits for the water quality. It would protect the area from surrounding land use, reduce the potential for flooding, and provide important habitat for wildlife, while also creating a more aesthetically-pleasing environment. The stream-inhabiting organisms we observed (benthic, macro, and invertebrates) would all have an improved quality of life as a result of a riparian buffer. Protecting and restoring riparian areas are one of the most cost-effective and reliable solutions to improving water quality.

Looking to the Future

The residents of Blacksburg have a social responsibility to work towards improving the condition of Stroubles Creek. This will effectively demonstrate Blacksburg’s reputation as internationally-recognized leaders in environmental sustainability.

There are countless measures that can be taken to restore the ecological state of this creek, with the end goal of providing a safe and natural habitat for species to thrive. Here are a few examples:

  • Create a riparian buffer zone through organized tree plantings

  • Plan a stream clean up

  • Raise awareness/educate others

  • Become involved in the new Virginia Tech Master Plan effort that launched last spring

  • Become involved in local conservation groups, such as the Stroubles Creek Restoration Initiative

If interested in becoming more involved, here are some helpful links:

  • Story on Blacksburg 16 Frogs Project