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Reclamation Pond

Reclamation Pond picture
The Duke Pond is a 5.5 acre water reclamation pond that collects rainwater and storm runoff from 22% of West Campus’ area. Water from the pond is used at the Chilled Water Plant #2 and saves approximately 100 million gallons of potable water a year.

Themes: Stormwater Management, Urban Runoff, Impervious Surfaces, Polluted Water and Water Conservation


2007 Drought

During the peak of the 2007 summer drought, Durham County was a few days from depleting its potable water reservoirs. Duke University, Durham’s largest potable water consumer, was close to experiencing a serious reduction in campus functionality since  Chiller Plant #2 would soon receive insufficient water to properly cool campus buildings and labs. In response to this concerning situation, Duke decided to expand efforts to  find a sustainable and secure way of handling Duke’s water needs and one key project was the Duke Reclamation Pond.

Pond’s Capabilities

The Duke Reclamation Pond, also known as the “Duke Pond,” was completed in 2015 and cost $11.5 million. The 5.5 acre pond is situated on a 12 acre forested lot at the intersection of Circuit Drive and Towerview Road. The Pond collects its water from rainfall and the runoff from 265 acres of West Campus. The pond is capable of holding 15.8 million gallons of water. The pond has a base capacity of 9.1 million gallons with the ability to tolerate a daily flux up to 6.7 million gallons of water.

Duke Pond provides Chiller Plant #2 with 100 million gallons of water annually. Chiller Plant #2 withdraws water depending on the university's daily cooling demand. The plant withdraws an average of 100,000-400,000 gallons of water daily, but can withdraw 1 million gallons in peak summer. The base 9.1 million gallons will be able to provide water to the Chiller Plant for two weeks during extreme drought. Any clean overflow from the Pond goes into the Haw River.

Sustainability in construction

The site’s construction process kept the concept of sustainability in mind. The construction team had to remove 1,558 trees to make room for the Pond. These same trees were repurposed into the wood that was used to make the site’s decks boards and handrails. The rest of the wood was turned into mulch to be used throughout campus. The Facilities Management Department worked in collaboration with the Biology department to select trees, shrubs, and over 40 different species of herbaceous plants for the site. All the plants were carefully selected to build habitats for native wildlife, provide natural filtration of rainwater and runoff, and be drought resistant. All together there are more than 30,000 plants at the site.

Campus Functions

Save Water, Save Money

The 100 million gallons that are pumped annually from Duke Pond for the Chiller Plant no longer need to be purchased from The City of Durham, saving the university $400,000 every year. This means that the Pond will be able to pay for itself 25 years after its construction date, by 2040. The 100 million gallon that are no longer purchased are now available for other the needs of Durham residents. Therefore, in times of drought, the university will be less of a strain on Durham’s potable water needs.

Stormwater Management

Duke Pond does more than just provide water for the Chiller Plant. The Pond is a core component of Duke’s stormwater management plan. Of the 265 West campus acres that drain into the pond, 50% of the acreage is covered by impervious surfaces (roads, parking lots, buildings, and sidewalks). The pond acts as a central drainage spot for all the rain that falls within that 265 acres. This keeps the rain from collecting in places of low elevation and small streams which could cause flooding and habitat destruction.


The Pond is a wonderful site in appearance and functionality. There is a 0.6 mile walking path around the pond for those who want to enjoy the site. There is also a pavilion, a bridge, a boardwalk, and an amphitheater to provide sitting and recreational space for visitors. Download the Bird Guide for the Duke Pond on this page to learn more ways to enjoy this site.

Real World Relevance

The US experienced a 1% reduction (40.4% to 39.4%) in urban tree reduction and a 1%  increase (25.6% to 26.6%)in urban impervious cover over 2009-2014. The 1% reduction in urban trees equates to annual loss of 138,000 urban acres of trees. This amount of annual tree loss is equivalent to losing 20 Duke Forests every year! 40% of the new impervious area was in areas that were previously treed. As urban areas continue to expand, the consequences of high impervious surface cover will affect everything from animal evolution to storm intensity. A North Carolina State study has confirmed that a species of fish has evolved differently depending on whether it lived in an urban or non-urban area. The urban version of the species evolved to become narrower in order to navigate the flash floods that came into the waterway after a rain event. Another example of the impacts of urbanization on humans and the environment was dramatically displayed during Hurricane Harvey in 2017 when Houston’s sprawling urban layout played a major role in intensifying the devastating effects of this storm. Houston’s 627 square miles of impervious ground cover prohibited water soil absorption and the rain from Hurricane Harvey instantly become floodwater. Cities will need to find ways to implement sufficient stormwater management infrastructure that is capable of handling increased amount of runoff with less space. The Reclamation Pond is one example of a stormwater management practice, but there are many others and many yet to be made!

Projects at the Duke Pond

Project Title Project Team Project Description
Effects of Drawdown on Water Quality and Temperature in Duke University's Chiller Pond

Giuliano, Brooke. Richardson, Curtis J., Flanagan, Neal. Giuliano. 

This Master project tried to (1) calculate a water budget for the pond, (2) determine the effects of fluctuating water levels on various water quality parameters, (3) assess whether the pond is compliant with state water quality standards, and (4) determine whether the stream temperature is significantly different at the inflow versus the outflow to the pond.


Kern, Elizabeth. Langerhans, R. Brian. Urbanization driver’s contemporary evolution in stream fish. 2018, April 27. Global Change Biology 24(8). https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/gcb.14115

Nowak, David J. Greenfield, Eric J. Declining urban and community tree cover in the United States. Declining Urban and community tree cover in the United States. 2018, August 5. 32. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1618866717307094?via%3Dihub

Boburg, Shawn. Reinhard, Beth. Houston’s ‘Wild West’ Growth. The Washington Post. 2017, August 29.


Chappell, Bil. National Weather Services adds new colors so it can map Harvey’s rains. 2017, August 28. NPR. https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/08/28/546776542/national-weather-service-adds-new-colors-so-it-can-map-harveys-rains