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Cleaning up the Rock Creek watershed improves water quality, wildlife habitat and the urban landscape’s general health.
In addition to the many completed watershed and habitat restoration projects to its credit, the District Department of the Environment (DDOE) has partnered with multiple agencies to further that mission. A shared desire to save D.C.’s streams has resulted in projects that target the Rock Creek watershed.
The entire 250-acre watershed lies within the city’s borders and its lands are employed as parks and single-family-home neighborhoods. Trash, polluted runoff, sewage overflows, loss of trees, destruction wildlife habitat and invasive plant species are among the major concerns being addressed by cleanup efforts. With the reclamation of healthy, self-sustaining streams with natural flow patterns, comes the biodiversity of species—both aquatic and terrestrial—which is part of the plan.
Presently, DDOE is working on two new restoration projects. The first concerns “daylighting” of the Broad Branch tributary. Daylighting restores to the open air some or all of the flow of a previously covered creek, or stormwater drainage; that is, brings a previously piped and buried stream back to the surface. By exposing water to sunlight, air, soil and vegetation, pollutants are processed and removed and water quality is vastly improved. This project—the first of its kind—will ultimately provide a newly enhanced stream corridor of over 1,800 feet for terrestrial and aquatic species.
“DDOE is not wedded to one type of restoration technique,” says DDOE environmental protection specialist Josh Burch, “rather, we look for the best restoration approach given the conditions of the stream, the associated watershed conditions and the relevant constraints on the project work area.”
In fact, the last few years have seen successful restora¬tions resulting from natural channel design, regenerative stream design and floodplain reconnection design.
The second of DDOE’s current reclamation project targets an eroded stream gully in Linnean Park.
“[We are] presently implementing a regenerative stream approach that will feature the installation of sand seepage weirs that raise up the base elevation of the incised stream and reconnect it to the stream’s historic floodplain,” explains Burch.
This restoration effort, as with all others, benefits area wildlife, particularly amphibian communities. For example, Milkhouse Ford, a recently completed project, had a noticeable increase in frog populations on completion.
“Residents who live nearby actually contacted the National Park Service to figure out what the noise from the forest was,” says Burch. “They hadn’t heard it [before]. It turned out to be mating calls of frogs.”
An increase in bird communities is also common, as restored stream corridors supply a food source—previously absent insect populations.
Additional efforts are underway by other nonprofits that will, in effect, further DDOE’s Rock Creek initiative. DC Water, for instance, is designing and implementing the Clean Rivers Project—a $2.6 billion program that will nearly eliminate overflows of sewage and stormwater into the Anacostia, Potomac and Rock Creek.
The District, on the whole, makes innumerable green efforts, and the latest Rock Creek mission is one that will have far-reaching, long-lasting effects that include fishable, swimmable waters; an increase in volume and biodiversity of vegetative, aquatic and terrestrial species; better air quality and overall healthier habitats for generations to come.