Did you know that stormwater runoff is a huge problem in Washington DC? Billions of gallons of water a year rush into our sewers carrying all manner of trash, motor oil, grease, pet waste, plastics, and other pollutants, much of which ultimately end up untreated in our local rivers, watersheds, and the Chesapeake Bay. Brookland’s hilly streets and sloped lots surely contribute greatly to a problem exacerbated by the fact that much of DC is simply paved over and the water has nowhere to go and no way to soak back to natural aquifers.
While new properties built in DC are required to manage stormwater runoff, the city has a huge number of properties that were built prior to runoff becoming a concern. It’s therefore up to homeowners to help make a difference.
I just had a free audit done by the DC Department of the Environment’s RiverSmart Program, DC’s way of combating the environmental problems caused by runoff. A landscape designer visits your property and evaluates various ways of reducing runoff by keeping the water on your property and putting it to more productive uses. Their major strategies include:
Rain barrels. The amount of water that falls on the average roof in DC in a year could potentially be captured and used to water the average lawn 45 times. That’s how much water is being wasted out of our roof gutters. Riversmart helps you install rain barrels that capture water from your downspouts. When you’re ready to water your lawn or garden, you attach a hose to the rain barrel and use the water you’ve saved up. Not only does this help the watershed, but you also save money on your water bill!
Permeable pavers. A lot of water runs off your property simply because it has nowhere to go. In fact, 65% of the entire District of Columbia is impermeable concrete and asphalt that totally repels water. Permeable pavers allow water to run through them and soak naturally into the ground. They can be used for patios, driveways, or wherever you use hardscaping.
Shade Trees. Large shade trees don’t just provide valuable shade. They also have large root systems that hold soil in place, allow water to permeate, and drink up water quickly. Same goes for large deep-rooted shrubs.
Rain Garden. Our neighbor Casey Trees has a showcase example of a rain garden. It is a part of your land strategically chosen and modified to collect water from other parts of your property, including from gutters. You place plants (preferably native ones) that can tolerate very wet conditions in the garden, and then let them enjoy the extra water whenever you have a rainstorm.
Bayscaping. Used by itself or in conjunction with rain gardens, bayscaping simply means using plants that were abundant here in the Chesapeake Bay watershed prior to intervention by humans. These plants are the best suited for soaking up water and withstanding the extremes of climate we can have here. A side benefit is the restoration of natural habitats for native animal species.
For me, rain barrels are definitely on the list, and I have always been committed to using native plants whenever possible. My property already captures a lot of water naturally in a part of the garden with several large trees and growing shrubs, making some of the other approaches less practical or needed.
So come on, Brookland! Make your home a RiverSmart home. It’s easy! Just call DDOE at 202-535-2252 or fill out their online application to schedule an audit and get the ball rolling. The program is quite popular, so you can expect some weeks or months of delay before they get someone out to see you, but the environment will thank you!