Beavers and man are culprits on Great Branch Creek

Made of sticks, mud, sod and logs as large as 12-inches in diameter, a beaver dam on Reedy Branch Creek has caused problems for years. It was removed a few years ago to allow the wetlands that lies stagnate along Chester Road north or Chester Station subdivision to drain with a steady flow. It’s back again.

The beaver dam, that creates a natural habitat for geese, swans and other wildlife, pools water over four feet above the natural elevation of the creek and wetlands. Hundreds of feet from any bank, stands a beaver lodge; waterfowl linger there to cash in on the scrapes of the beavers catch.

The great lake created by the dam is a picturesque scene along the highway but it’s not so beautiful if you live up stream. Two subdivisions Chesterbrook Farms and Dense Wood Hills are affected by the rising water and some homes are giving up part of their backyards to the swamp. In fact, a recent expansion of the RPA (Resource Protection Area,) puts a number of the homes in those subdivisions in areas that could no longer be built on.

Christopher and Randi Barbagallo, who live on Empire Drive in the Chesterbrook Farms subdivision have had at least four feet eroded from their back yard. Not necessarily from the increasing size of the beaver pond but the runoff that feeds it. As more development arrives upstream the back of their lot turns to silt that is filtered through the wetlands and builds up behind nature’s dam.

At a recent community meeting concerning the re-arrangement of the Iron Mill development’s RPA, residents downstream of the development expressed their concern.
“How will this affect us down stream,” said Barbagallo whose back yard abuts the stream that will carry the runoff from Iron Mill.

“From an environmental standpoint we look at that as a win,” said Brian Mitchell who was representing Wilton Family Investments, the developer of Iron Mill. “And we will have three water quality features on the project. It’s probably one of the most strenuous water retention requirements I’ve ever seen on a project.”

“We already have a volume increase,” Barbagallo said. “So will we still have a volume increase?”

Mitchell indicated that the volume increase would be controlled by the 2007 zoning case.

Water has been backing up on Great Branch Creek for years but lately it has been getting worse. For the most part beavers have been the problem. In fact Chesterfield County has removed a number of the dams that have caused culverts to overflow.

But beavers can rebuild primary dams overnight, though they may not defend secondary dams as vigorously. The beaver is the largest rodent in North America.

In a presentation by Michael M. Pollock, Morgan Heim, Danielle at the American Fisheries Society Symposium in 2010, “Beaver dams can be disruptive; the flooding can cause extensive property damage… when a beaver dam bursts and the resulting flash flood overwhelms a culvert. Traditional solutions to beaver problems have been focused on the trapping and removal of all the beavers in the area. While this is sometimes necessary, it is typically a short-lived solution, as beaver populations have made a remarkable comeback in the United States and are likely to continually colonize suitable habitat.


28 March Village News article by Mark Fausz

While the quote attributed to Chris and Randi Barbagallo is correct in context, it was not attributed to the flooding on Great Branch Creek. We in fact live along Little Branch Creek. The erosion as a result of the beaver inhabiting this tributary has claimed nearly one third of our property and has also affected the drainage of rain runoff.

Compounding this situation is the designation of wetland and resource protection areas (RPA) that now envelope two thirds of our property, making living with these rodents and their new ecology impossible. Our neighbors in Chesterbrook Farms are also feeling this impact. Even with the relatively dry months we have been experiencing, the water levels as a result of the beaver dam have increased across our properties. And not only our properties – but the county land adjacent to the creek is also flooding. The Frisbee Golf Course located behind Ecoff Elementary School has had water creep up to the point that baskets had to be moved to higher ground.

While there was no certainty that the construction at Iron Mills would have an impact on Little Branch Creek, there is no question about the beavers. The dam abuts county land, and the den itself is adjacent to county land, however the Parks Department, as of 29 March, would not allow trapping on their land. Realize that trapping in isolated areas only exasperates the amount of time and money it takes to capture all the critters. The County will deconstruct the dam, with permission of the residential property owner, but the rodents have to be removed first, otherwise the fast building beavers will construct another dam overnight.

As your article had concluded, this situation is typically short-lived. However, in terms of ecology “short-lived” is five to seven years. That is enough time to permanently change the course of Little Branch Creek and create drainage problems that will cost the residents thousands of dollars.

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