Working upstream to improve water quality in the Inland Bays

“Improving water quality in the Inland Bays begins upstream,” according to Eric Buehl, Land Conservation and Restoration Coordinator for the Delaware Center for the Inland Bays.

There are about fourteen major tributaries that carry fresh water into the three bays, but those waterways are fed by hundreds of small streams, creeks, and ditches that carry water through the forests, fields and marshes of coastal Sussex County.  “Water quality in these ‘feeder’ streams affects water quality in the Bays for better or for worse” said Buehl.

A few miles south of Georgetown, hidden in the forest of the state-run Stockley Center, is Cow Bridge Branch, one of the Inland Bays’ most pristine tributaries.  It flows into Millsboro Pond and then to the Indian River.

To help protect water quality in Cow Bridge Branch, the Center for the Inland Bays recently completed a project to enhance the stream channel along part of an unnamed, degraded tributary that runs through the Stockley Center and into Cow Bridge Branch.

The stream channel is an intermittent stream which flows during the winter and spring and during periods of heavy rainfall.  Prior to the start of the project, the area had been mowed during dry periods and was almost entirely comprised of turf grass which was ineffective at slowing down and filtering stormwater that entered the channel.


To restore the channel, approximately 5,000 native plants including trees, grasses, shrubs, and wildflowers, were planted to create a buffer along the channel banks to slow and filter runoff before it entered the stream.  A large rain garden was created to capture and filter water during periods of high rainfall, and some minor grading was done along the edge of the stream channel to increase the floodplain area.

The project cost approximately $42 thousand, which included the cost of grading and excavation, modifications to the storm drain system, stabilization materials, labor, and the cost of the native plants. Funding was provided by the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control’s (DNREC) Community Water Quality Improvement Grant Program and the Center for the Inland Bays.

Design and technical assistance was provided by the DNREC’s Division of Watershed Stewardship and the Wetland and Subaqueous Lands Section, Ducks Unlimited, Wesley College Environmental Studies Program, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service. Contractors included the Sussex Conservation District who performed the excavation and stabilization work, and Sussex Landscaping.

The Center for the Inland Bays is appreciative of the support and assistance of the Stockley Center on this project.  The Stockley Center includes a 50-bed skilled nursing facility operated by the Department of Health and Social Services and residences for Delawareans with developmental disabilities. Visitation to the project area is restricted to the general public; photos of the project can be viewed at  

Recognizing the value of this state-owned natural area, one of the most biologically unique areas in the State of Delaware, The Stockley Collaborative is working on public recommendations to expand the uses of the Stockley Center and 750 acres of state-owned land to benefit the health and wellness of Sussex County residents and to enhance programs and services for people statewide.

The Delaware Center for the Inland Bays is a non-profit organization established in 1994 to promote the wise use and enhancement of the Inland Bays and its watershed.  With its many partners, the CIB conducts public outreach and education, develops and implements restoration projects, encourages scientific inquiry, and sponsors research.  For more information, or to learn how you can support this important work call visit our website at