by Leah Lemoine
Environmental Protection Specialist
District Department of the Environment
Why has the District Department of the Environment (DDOE) provided over 5,000 homeowners in DC – including some of your neighbors – up to $1,200 for landscaping enhancements aimed to control stormwater? Stormwater runoff is the number one contributor of degradation in Rock Creek. To protect our local steams and rivers, DDOE’s RiverSmart Homes program offers grants of up to $1,200 to help homeowners control stormwater pollution leaving their properties.
Before Washington DC existed, stormwater fell on native, vegetated landscapes where it would infiltrate into the ground. This water would slowly flow through layers of soil becoming cleaner before eventually finding its way back into the Potomac, Rock Creek and Anacostia Rivers. This age-old hydrologic cycle ensured that water reaches our local water bodies clean and slowly.
As the District developed, and similarly all cities, the natural ground cover was paved to make way for roads, buildings, and sidewalks. Today we find ourselves with nearly 40% of the total land area of the District impervious. Rainwater becomes stormwater when rain falls on impervious surfaces such as rooftops, driveways, roads, sidewalks and even lawns. As stormwater moves from yards and impervious areas to streams it picks up pollutants such as oil and grease from our roadways and driveways, nutrients from fertilizers on our lawns, and bacteria from pet waste and other animal excrement. Once in the stream, the fast-moving surges of water associated with storms cause erosion and destroy habitat for fish and other wildlife.
There are many environmental benefits to living in cities. For example, higher-density living and shorter commutes translate into lower carbon emissions for city-dwellers as compared to suburbanites. However, stormwater management remains a challenge. Thankfully, new development and large renovations of properties in the District are now required to install items that reduce stormwater pollution. DDOE’s proposed stormwater regulations for new development require 1.2 inches of retention, up from 1 inch of retention, and establishes an innovative Stormwater Retention Credit system which provides economic incentives for property owners to exceed retention requirements.
Unfortunately, much of the District’s building stock was developed before modern methods for controlling and treating stormwater were developed. Additionally, many will not trigger the proposed regulations for stormwater as they will not undergo major renovations or rehabilitations any time soon.
DDOE cannot meet its stormwater management goals without the help of the vast and largely unregulated building stock, single family homes. To address this, DDOE’s RiverSmart Homes program offers incentives to homeowners interested in reducing stormwater runoff from their properties. Homeowners receive up to $1,200 to adopt one or more of the following landscape enhancements: rain barrels, shade trees, permeable pavement, and BayScaping. (BayScaping is vegetation that is native to the Chesapeake Bay region. The plants have deep roots to facilitate soil conservation, provide habitat, and require fewer inputs like irrigation and fertilizer. You can read more here: green.dc.gov.) Homeowners pay small copayments of $45 to $100 to have the RiverSmart stormwater management practices installed.
Many residents of Forest Hills have enrolled and seen positive results. Karen DeWitt on Ellicott Street had a rain garden installed to help absorb a portion of stormwater that is entering her property from the sidewalk. Janet Fries on Linnean Terrace has installed trees, rain barrels and a rain garden to help capture and treat stormwater on her yard before it heads to the alley, and ultimately Rock Creek. RiverSmart participant Elijah Marentette on Brandywine Street, who recently had two rain barrels and a rain garden installed, comments:
Normally we use the rain barrels and gravity to water the rain garden and other shrubs with soaker hoses. But, if the barrels are full on a warm weekend day, I hook them up to garden hose and lawn sprinkler with a small pump. Our kids love to flick the pump switch on and then go run through the “rain” that they’ve made. This is such a wonderful program from the DDOE. It’s fun to walk around the neighborhood and see more and more rain barrels popping up. Green lawns, healthy shrubs, lower water bills, happy kids; what’s not to love?!
DOEE will come out to your property to perform an analysis of what changes you can make to reduce stormwater runoff. Simply fill out an online application. There is a two-month wait for an audit, and practices are installed between one and five months after the audit, depending on planting season.
- If you have additional questions, you can learn more by clicking here here: Becoming a RiverSmart Homeowner.
- Do you live in an apartment? Do you want to make your church or small business stormwater friendly? Multi-family residential properties, small businesses and houses of worship are eligible for the RiverSmart Communities grant program. Enroll to schedule your site assessment!