What a beautiful afternoon it was for all of us to gather at the site of Broad Branch stream restoration project. Forest Hills Connection organized the Sunday’s tour, and it was so well-attended that Steve Saari, the head of this District Department of the Environment (DDOE) project, had to yell to be heard by everyone.
We had neighbors of all ages from Forest Hills and Chevy Chase, ANC 3F Commissioners Mary Beth Ray and Sally Gresham, Ward 3 Pedestrian Council Representative Eileen McCarthy, Connection contributors Lee Cannon and Margery Elfin, and even pooches, some of whom wanted to go after the ducks that calmly kept us company for awhile.
Steve first described the scale of the project in terms of funding and the many agencies and landowners involved.
This is a $2,024,000 construction project to control water runoff and improve water quality, by slowing down and bringing to the surface the for Broad Branch and the Linnean streams. This will allow biologic processes to cleanse the polluted stormwater that flows from our streets and control flooding on Linnean. DDOE bundled together funding from a variety of sources:
- $549,000 – DC Stormwater Enterprise Funds (one of the fees on your water bill)
- $415,000 – EPA Nonpoint Source Pollution Grant Funds (an EPA grant)
- $360,000 – Clean Water State Revolving Funds (another EPA grant but one we aren’t guaranteed)
- $700,000 – National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (a grant from a non-profit to reduce pollution to the Chesapeake that we had to apply for)
Steve’s also had to work with many entities: “The major players were DDOE, DDOT, NPS, and the Peruvian Embassy. Other players were: EPA, the Army Corps of Engineers, the National Capital Planning Commission, the Fine Arts Commission, the State Historic Preservation Office, the State Department, the DC Office of the Secretary for the International Community and Embassies, DC Water, and the Department of General Services. Our contractors were Greenhorne and O’Mara (now called Stantec) and Underwood and Associates.”
We started out at the 36th Street bridge, which Steve wanted to include in the project because that’s where Broad Branch stream is now piped underground. To do so would mean tearing out the brickwork blocking the way and letting the water flow under the bridge. But he was told he could not because of the bridge’s historic status. But it appears it might be back in play as a possibility. He will know more after this week.
Steve has worked very closely with the Peruvian Embassy on this project, rebuilding eroded areas to capture water running off the hill on which it perches. They own most of the land east of Linnean Avenue, which was something no one knew – not even the Peruvians – until well into the project. You can download a map of the project here.
Some trees have had to be cut down, and one large tree on Linnean will have to go, which is in the background of this photo.
But some trees which initially were on the chopping block will be saved and are marked with big blue X’s.
Steve had only words of praise for the contractor who has worked very hard to have minimal adverse impact with all the construction. The material used on the temporary road – mulch and sand – prevents the ground beneath from compacting even with all the heavy equipment maneuvering back and forth. And as soon as they complete an area they spread grass seed, which is already coming up in some places.
As we moved further into the site, we came upon an area where the water appeared to be still and had an oily sheen to the surface. One of participants noted the noxious gas odor. Steve bent down to touch the surface of the water to demonstrate that this disturbance leaves a hole.
He explained that this is a “good” oil sheen. One that would close up again would be a sign of oil from our cars. The good kind is the result of constructing “bioretention” cells with porous materials to control water flow and promote filtration (PDF). The water is flowing but not at the surface, and the smell and oily sheen at the surface are signs of biologic processes at work. He pointed to the pile of leaves and the chopped-down bamboo lying in the water. This left there on purpose to pick up the pace of restoring the biology of the stream. Eventually we will see insects, amphibians, birds, and maybe even fish.
To the question about whether this water will breed more mosquitoes, Steve responded with an emphatic “no.” In fact, he predicted that just the opposite will happen. Neighbors will see many more dragonflies, he said, which are like “vacuum cleaners” for mosquitoes.
Commissioners Ray and Gresham asked about progress on erosion from water runoff in the nearby Soapstone Valley. Steve reassured them that DDOE, NPS and DC Water are working together on this issue. DC Water is currently working on a project that would repair or replace the aging sewer infrastructure in Soapstone. It’s also under pressure from the EPA to better deal with pollutants flowing from our streets and roofs during each storm. Projects such as Broad Branch are part of the process to capture and filtrate the polluted water before it reaches our streams and rivers.
Most of the group peeled off when we made to the culvert that piped the water underneath Broad Branch Road to a much larger pipe carrying water down Nevada Avenue from Maryland. Some diehards tramped through the construction at Linnean Playground. Currently, a man-made stream bed sends water gushing into Linnean when it rains. Again the aim is to create bioretention cells that slow the flow and the erosion.
Steve’s parting message was that you too can help clean up our rivers by installing rain gardens. DDOE makes this very easy and even helps pay for it through its Riversmart Homes Project. And if you have any questions contact Steve at email@example.com.
Near the end of this walk, Commissioner Ray nudged me, not into the water, but to speak up about the Forest Hills Connection fundraiser on Sunday, May 18th: A Forest Hills artists’ studio tour. From 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on that day, three artists will open their studios to guests. Tickets are $25 and are being sold online or at the door. Proceeds will go toward funding our operations. We need your support so we can keep organizing community events like these.