It took a few years of planning and several months of work to return a long-buried stream to the surface. On an April 7th tour of the daylighted portion of Broad Branch Stream, we learned more about the restoration project and the work in the almost five years since then to support the stream’s recovery.
Forest Hills Connection hosted the tour with Cecilia Lane, who oversees this site for the DC Department of Energy and the Environment (DOEE), and Jeanne Braha, the executive director of Rock Creek Conservancy (RCC).
Lane started the tour by leading the 35 to 40 attendees to the place where the stream once disappeared into a pipe underground: at the 36th Street bridge just south of Nevada Avenue.
What may look to the casual observer like slow-moving pools of water fed by babbling brooks are actually regenerative stormwater conveyance systems, engineered to compensate for the slope of the land and slow stormwater runoff.
This gives the water a chance to be cleansed on its way downstream and feed the water table, Lane explained. A pipe would not permit either of those things.
Another thing a pipe does not permit: fish. Lane said there are currently no fish taking up residence in the daylighted Broad Branch Stream, and accommodations that would make it easier for them to make their way upstream would have added millions of dollars to the project. However, they did add a few touches for any intrepid fish that might find their way here in the future. This culvert under Linnean Avenue is one. Most culverts are at an incline to keep the water inside moving. This one is level to make for a better fish crossing.
The fish may be missing, but other wildlife were quick to move in. I mentioned the mallard couple that took up residence and raised a family while construction was still under way in 2014. And the American toads broke into song about midway through the tour. Marjorie Rachlin, Forest Hills Connection’s nature writer and an attendee, reported that the toads were having a great time mating in a pool to the west of Linnean Avenue.
The tour followed the daylighted stream to where it ends at Broad Branch Road.
Here, it goes into a pipe before it emerges again a few hundred feet away. The opening here is too small and during storm events, stormwater backs up and floods the road. DOEE is working on a plan to remove the bricks and enlarge the opening.
Along the way, we noticed that algae had collected on one pool, and a few other pools were an odd shade of green.
Lane did not know the cause in either case, but mentioned the importance of having neighbors watching over the stream to keep it in good health. DOEE can’t be here every day, she said, and the people who are here and can report changes are an invaluable resource.
To that end, Broad Branch Stream and its sister Linnean Stream restoration project are in need of a “friends group.” These streams lie in an area that is carved up by various DC agencies – DDOT, DOEE, and Parks and Recreation – as well as the National Park Service and the government of Peru. So it will be up to a group of neighbors to make sure these streams are well-maintained by picking up trash, removing invasive species, and nudging the various agencies to do their part.
Rock Creek Conservancy has taken on some of this task over the past few years, leading volunteers through cleanups and invasive species removal, planting trees and shrubs with Casey Trees, and hiring interns to water native plantings and monitor water quality. The Conservancy’s Braha said her group stands ready to train “stream team” leaders and “weed warriors” to take on the task. And in the meantime, there is a cleanup this Saturday at Broad Branch that is part of RCC’s Extreme Cleanup at 70-plus sites throughout Rock Creek Park.
Another way to protect the stream, by preventing more stormwater from reaching it. Lane talked about DOEE’s Riversmart Homes, which is is part of the District’s stormwater management system. This program provides cash incentives to private owners of single family homes for removing impervious surfaces and installing green infrastructure such as green roofs, rain gardens, trees, and rain barrels. This would reduce stormwater runoff cascading down our streets and carrying pollutants into our streams. (Apartment buildings are eligible for rebates through DOEE’s Riversmart Communities program.)
Broad Branch is almost five years into its recovery from its decades underground. Lane said it would never fully recover. But even streams like Soapstone, left to run nearly wild over the years, faces challenges in an urban environment. That’s where you come in. Volunteers have an important role to play in helping local streams and the wildlife around them to flourish. If interested in joining a friends group please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org with “Broad Branch Stream Friends Group” in the subject line.