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Pleasant Run Stream Corridor Naturalization


Pleasant Run is a 27 square-mile watershed on the east side of Indianapolis. It is one of several watersheds identified by the Indianapolis Department of Parks and Recreation (IndyParks) for naturalization. The ultimate goal is to return these urban streams to multifunctional stream corridors, thereby reversing a century long tendency of treating the city’s streams as storm and wastewater conduits. In the Pleasant Run watershed, initial studies identified three primary reaches, or sections, of the stream that showed signs of significant physical instability, with unstable banks and excessive sediment input into the stream. Ideally, IndyParks and CEES want to naturalize from the headwaters downstream in this watershed.  The currently identified project areas in Pleasant Run contain over 3.5 miles of stream, or 25% of the length of the main channel of Pleasant Run.  The initial project reach is at Pleasant Run Golf Course (PRGC), located 7.6 miles upstream from the confluence of Pleasant Run with White River. The project reach at PRGC is over a mile long. 


Project design at PRGC started in 2009 with the identification of reference reaches upstream and downstream of the project area.  Using data collected at the reference reaches and detailed mapping of the project reach, CEES and Indyparks worked with URS to develop a detailed mitigation plan for the site. After receiving regulatory approval and all required permits, construction started in October 2011, and was substantially complete by January 2012. Excessive heat and drought during the summer of 2012 slowed progress on the native vegetation plantings in the stream corridor. Efforts to nurture native vegetation will continue in 2013. A long-term goal for CEES is to continue monitoring Pleasant Run.  One of the biggest challenges in stream restoration has been the lack of post-construction monitoring.


The Pleasant Run watershed provides a remarkable laboratory to investigate a systems approach to improving urban streams. Leadership from IndyParks, combined with an ongoing commitment from Citizens Water to resolve the City’s historic problems with combined sewer overflows (CSOs), and a strong local watershed group, all help to provide the opportunity to fully address the many problems in the Pleasant Run watershed.

The plan is deceptively simple: IndyParks and CEES will naturalize the physical stream corridor while Citizens Water improves water quality by reducing the CSO discharges. The combination of physical stream stability and improved water quality leads to a healthy biological community and overall stream health.

In reality, the project is a complex long-term experiment in urban aquatic ecosystem restoration. Pleasant Run is the first phase in what IndyParks envisions as the renaturalization of the streams in Indianapolis and Marion County. Funding and support is being developed for the next phases.


CEES is coordinating research objectives with colleagues in academia, and city, state, and federal agencies, to help us better quantify and document the results of this remarkable experiment. Our goal is for these watersheds to be the laboratories where we learn how to reverse the urban stream syndrome. We invite your support and participation.