A large dragonfly alighted on my hand. Startled, I flinched. It flew off and landed on my camera. Then it perched on my other hand. As I tried to get a shot of it, it flew up into the branches of a tree overhead.
I had come to see if all was well at Broad Branch Stream after a late August water main break dumped immeasurable gallons of chlorinated water into the stream.
Chlorine is lethal to aquatic life and the break could have done a great deal of damage, but life of the stream appeared to be thriving. I found a number of butterflies and dragonflies, and I am told by Steve Saari, the District Department of Energy and Environment water specialist who led this stream restoration project, frogs were still hopping around.
For that, we have Mary Anna Barratt Dimes to thank. Barratt Dimes works for Underwood Associates, the contractor that did the stream “daylighting” work for DOEE. The last weekend in August, Barratt Dimes took her husband to see the project. At first, she was excited to see the pools of water so large since the weather had been so dry. Then she smelled the chlorine, and she knew the pools had been filled by a water main break. Her husband, also an environmentalist, found the source – water bubbling up under the culvert underneath 36th Street near Nevada Avenue. Both knew chlorine from the drinkable water pouring into the stream could severely damage or even destroy the life that had started to return to the area.
Reporting the emergency was their biggest challenge. They didn’t know whom to call. A neighbor walking her dog suggested 311. That didn’t work. Barratt Dimes’ husband, Ted Gattino, found an emergency number for DC Water (202-612-3400) and called. He was told that someone would check it out in a few hours. DOEE’s Steve Saari later told me DC Water did come out to survey the situation and drop anti-chlorine tablets into the pools.
During my walk the following Monday, I encountered the water rushing through the stream and found the same leak.
That’s when I contacted Saari and John Lisle, DC Water’s communications director. On Wednesday, September 2nd, Lisle wrote to say a DC Water contractor had installed a valve on the north side of the 36th St NW and Nevada bridge, then a day later, cut and capped the 12-inch water main on the south side of the bridge “to ensure there is no potable water flowing into the creek.”
“By doing this work the leak was isolated and the main is out of service,” Lisle wrote. “There should be no water leaking from the main.”
Lisle went on to explain that this is only a temporary fix and DC Water is still working out how to permanently repair the main between the valve and the cap.
Saari checked out the site a couple times since, and found life going on as usual. My panic about the damage from chlorine and DC Water construction receded.
This stream restoration has added so much new life and natural beauty to our neighborhood, and it is up to us to protect and help it grow. Please call DC Water at its emergency number (202-612-3400) if you ever smell chlorine or sewage and find water rushing through the stream when it has been dry. You can always search for “DC Water emergency number” if you don’t have the number on hand. You can call 311, but that can be difficult as Barratt Dimes found. Steve Saari is available by email at [email protected]. And of course, you can always email the Forest Hills Connection at [email protected].