Civil engineer Matt Fater: helping water and wildlife | by Mikaela Capalby | Oct, 2021

Mikaela Capalby

Matt Fater is a civil engineer with a focus on water management and infrastructure. He was the project manager in 2008 of Red Fox Meadows Natural Area and oversaw its design, development and construction. In a Zoom interview on October 1, Fater explained his role in the project’s creation, how his career helps wildlife and what he does now.

Capalby: Tell me about your background and how you began working on Red Fox Meadows.

Fater: I was the project manager in 2008, I work for the city in stormwater retention.

Capalby: Can you clarify stormwater?

Fater: City stormwater is a facility focused on stormwater management. We develop master plans, then we work to execute the plan through design and construction to protect water resources.

Capalby: What was your role in Red Fox Meadow’s construction?

Fater: For my career, I moved into the project management role. One of the first projects was managing the design of Red Fox Meadows.

Capalby: Can you tell me more about what Red Fox Meadows is?

Fater: Yes. Red Fox Meadows is a stormwater detention site that provides trails for recreation and habitat for wildlife. But more importantly it improves water quality, reduces flood risk and controls urban runoff.

Capalby: How do projects like these start?

Fater: This project was funded through the city; Red Fox Meadows was a project looking for multiple benefits and purposes. How it started, well, the key piece was land acquisition. The land was purchased by the city with the intent of building a stormwater natural area. The city stormwater utilities program and natural areas program both bought it in partnership. A utilities fee is funded from the taxes people pay. The construction was driven by a stormwater retention need, a need for flood control and better water quality. We also partnered with Fort Collins natural areas and recreation and wildlife.

Capalby: Can you tell me more about the history of the project?

Fater: It was designed in 2007 and then construction began in 2008. It was constructed for two years. Then, there was a period of five years post-construction to grow a wide variety of native vegetation. The stormwater aspect serves to detain stormwater, capture and store run-offs and release these things at a slower rate downstream. This limits flood damage downstream. It also captures and stores water during an intense rainstorm to prevent flooding.

Capalby: I read that the construction was timed around the nesting of red foxes in the area, how did that go?

Fater: Yes, there were dens of foxes out there and part of the challenge was to construct the project and protect the wildlife in the area. We worked with a wildlife biologist to identify dens, fence them off and protect them. We conducted construction around those areas and the foxes were still out there during construction and even thrived after construction. But about five years ago, there was an illness and a lot of foxes passed away. I think it was mange. There are a lot of deer, birds and other types of wildlife that we saw during and after construction. The overall site was made to benefit the ecosystem and make natural habitats for animals.

Capalby: How did the public respond to the construction?

Fater: I think they liked it, I see a lot of people using it now. We constructed new trails and connected them to other trails from neighborhoods. The recreation I see is usually running, biking and walking dogs. Besides recreation, it’s helping stormwater quality.

Capalby: So what’s the simple definition of stormwater and urban runoff?

Fater: Well, pollutants collect in streets and lawns, and then when it rains the water runs off of these sources and drains into streams, lakes or rivers. Stormwater runoff brings toxins and other contaminants like oils, grease and sediments into our waterways. Water quality detention stores runoff and slows it down, filters it out and cleans the water.

Capalby: All of these things protect our water and the wildlife, how so?

Fater: Keeping contaminants out of streams helps everyone. Our goal was to try to establish a natural area with biodiversity and native plants. We contoured the land to create habitats out there, this is especially seen in the bird population. I’d say it all came down to stormwater treatment and habitat creation.

Capalby: Have you worked on any similar projects?

Fater: The stormwater program in general has a goal of flood protection and water quality, but in Fort Collins that is also creating natural systems, habitat and city recreation. The West Vine Outfall project was a stream project to re-create the stream to carry flood-flows in a natural way. Our stream rehabilitation program designs urban tributaries and restores streams. A lot of streams have been impacted by urban development, agriculture and erosion. Our program goes to restore them; they may not be perfect, but they are a lot better.

Capalby: Where do you see your work going in the next five years?

Fater: We still have a lot of work to do. The big challenge is the portions of town that are not constructed with today’s standards. A lot of the city was created before there were flood hazards, so we have been going back and fixing older parts of town with a more natural approach. Sometimes when it’s more densely populated, we do surface work like rain gardens, or pockets on the street to capture stormwater. We are continuously doing projects and getting funding. We want our work to serve its engineering function, but also to blend in with nature.

Capalby: It sounds like your program is creating a lot of positive environmental changes. Would you like to add anything else?

Fater: Let me think. That’s about all I have to say, but please send me an email if you have further questions.

Capalby: Thank you so much for your time, have a great day!

Fater: Likewise.

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