Buttermilk Branch Creek

Jan 10, 2013 - 12:17 pm

Overhead map of Buttermilk Creek.To some, Buttermilk might invoke thoughts of savory sweets like ice cream and pie and perhaps Buttermilk Creek was named so because of its resemblance to a milky channel after a heavy rainstorm.

Buttermilk Creek may not top any “best of Austin” lists; however, it has its own character and charm. And hopefully through restoration efforts of volunteers and the City of Austin’s Watershed Protection Department, Buttermilk will gradually look more like a crystal clear creek.

Buttermilk Branch is a small watershed that has been heavily developed since the 1950s.  This little stream flows southeast from Lamar Blvd and Anderson Lane to Little Walnut Creek and on to Walnut Creek.  This short two mile stretch of stream fills up rapidly during storm events as it drains a portion of I-35 and Highway 183 along with the heavy development surrounding it.  To accommodate the increased flow from development, sections of the stream have been engineered to better convey the high stormflow that the natural size and shape of the stream was unable to do without flooding the surrounding homes.

The resulting effort left a trapezoidal stretch of Buttermilk between Bennett and Blessing streets void of any vegetation other than short mowed grass.  With the exception of the stretch between Providence and Blessing the vegetation down in the channel must remain mowed.  But along the top of the bank the vegetation can be increased to include trees as well as native grasses.

Bare root plants are used as a means of overcoming the need for irrigation.  They are inexpensive and can have a survival rate of near 60% after the first year.  The potential benefits of this type of vegetation make it a viable option for small scale recovery efforts.


One of the places selected for increased vegetation is along the fence bordering the JJ Pickle Elementary School playground.  On October 10th, 2012 with the help of Austin Youth River Watch (River Watch) students, more than 100 bare root trees and shrubs were planted along the stream side of the fence.  The students spent part of their day after school digging into hard dry ground, toting buckets of water up the steep slope from the stream, and carefully planting the future trees of this neglected stream bank.  To delineate the area, fence posts were pounded into the ground and rope was strung along the top.


Lesson learned
Unfortunately, approximately one month after the bare root seedlings were planted, the rope had been removed from the fence posts and a maintenance crew inadvertently mowed over all the new plants.  

Volunteers and City staff are undeterred by the setback and are using the incident as an opportunity to apply lessons learned to this and other projects.  Staff has communicated more with the maintenance crew that works in the area and will mark the area to clearly show which areas should not be mowed. The best thing to do is stay positive and keep working toward a healthy riparian zone.Future projects include improving the fence lines.

Future projects
The next step for this location is to put up another sturdy stringer along the fence posts to help make the location obvious to future mowing crews.  That will be followed by a second effort by the River Watch volunteers to plant native tree and shrub seeds in a section of the riparian zone that did not receive bare root plantings. 

If you notice crews mowing in an area that is marked as a “Grow Zone” please call 311 immediately to report mowing in a grow zone.  You can formally become this creek’s guardian by joining the Adopt-a-Creek program.  


For more information about Buttermilk Creek grow zone, contact Staryn Wagner
Staryn Wagner - email

Buttermilk Creek water quality

Buttermilk Creek Restoration Fact Sheet