How We Work: Cities
Using the power of nature to make cities more resilient and livable places.
The Anacostia River has had a tumultuous history. Decades of heavy industrial activity along its banks, combined with a constant flow of raw sewage and polluted stormwater, have substantially degraded the river.
Today, the Anacostia River is beginning to bounce back.
Working with partners, The Nature Conservancy is contributing to the Anacostia recovery by reducing polluted stormwater runoff in the river’s watershed—while at the same time finding new ways to connect communities and nature.
The Power of Partnership
Mount Olivet Cemetery was founded in 1858 in what was then a rural part of Washington, D.C., to carry out the Catholic Church’s ministry. Now that the cemetery is almost full, the church is exploring new ways to use the cemetery grounds to answer Pope Francis’ Encyclical on the Environment, Laudato Si', to respect and care for the earth.
This shared interest in the natural world has led to an innovative collaboration with the Archdiocese of Washington to use non-burial lands to address the growing environmental problem of urban stormwater pollution—the fastest-growing source of pollution to the Chesapeake Bay.
The stormwater flowing off Mount Olivet Cemetery drains directly into Hickey Run, one of the Anacostia River’s most impaired tributaries and a restoration priority for the District.
TNC's work at Mount Olivet cemetery started as a way to address stormwater runoff in the Anacostia river, but it has grown into so much more.
In June 2019, a new memorial green space was formally dedicated at Mount Olivet. The space will address multiple urban conservation needs while also providing visitors with a place to rest and connect with nature.
The project was constructed on a large open hill where many men, women and children—including those who were enslaved—were buried over the cemetery’s 160-year history, some without memorial markers. The space was designed with direct input from the community through a series of meetings facilitated by TNC where community members offered thoughts and feedback during the design process.
The more than 100 new trees planted at the site by partner organization Casey Trees and TNC will not only provide shade for visitors as they grow, but also provide habitat for native species, filter rainwater through their roots, and help to reduce the urban heat island effect that occurs in areas with little to no tree canopy.
This site is TNC's first collaboration with Nature Sacred—an organization focused on the creation of urban green spaces founded by the TKF Foundation. Both Nature Sacred and TNC have a vested interest in connecting people with nature and work under the shared belief that caring for nature is vital to human health and well-being.
In recognition of this, the community designed green space has been accepted as a prescription site for Park Rx America. Patients who are prescribed nature by their doctors can "fill" their prescription by spending time at the Mount Olivet set.
In addition to providing human benefits, supporting native species and capturing stormwater, the new garden spaces complement the extensive green infrastructure that TNC has already installed across Mount Olivet Cemetery to capture millions of gallons of stormwater runoff that would otherwise flow into the Anacostia River.
Stormwater pollution is caused when rainwater falls on impervious surfaces—including sidewalks, parking lots and roads—where it mixes with oil, sediment, trash and other pollutants. It then flows into our cities’ sewer systems and rivers.
Replacing, buffering or retrofitting impervious surfaces with water retaining green infrastructure like “rain gardens” allows polluted stormwater to be captured and cleaned. Water is absorbed and filtered by the plants, topsoil, sand and gravel layered within a rain garden.
In 2018, we replaced approximately 18,000 square feet of impervious surface with rain gardens in the first phase of a two-phased project at Mount Olivet Cemetery.
The first-of-its-kind green infrastructure project is expected to prevent the runoff of millions of gallons of stormwater into the nearby Anacostia River, while also serving as a model to other cities around the country.
Designs for the green infrastructure project were aimed to maintain the sanctity of the grounds while also enhancing them. All work conducted in the surveying, planning and implementation of the modifications was done in close collaboration with the cemetery to ensure that the burial sites would not be disturbed, and construction would not disrupt scheduled burials or impede the ability of people coming to visit loved ones buried at the cemetery.
Our financial partners on this project didn’t just make this work possible—they also helped show the world a new way to lever up investor capital to drive conservation.
Because of the District’s progressive regulations and the potential to generate cash flow by selling credits generated from the project, our investors are seeing a profitable return. Prudential Financial provided the capital, while Encourage Capital brokered the deal and helped to found District Stormwater, LLC, in conjunction with NatureVest, TNC's impact investing unit.
The Mount Olivet project isn't our first collaboration with a local faith community. In 2015, Hyattsville's First United Methodist Church took action to address the 3 million gallons of stormwater its three-acre parking lot was shedding annually into Wells Run, an Anacostia River tributary.
The Nature Conservancy worked in partnership with the church and the Anacostia Watershed Society to implement a natural stormwater filtration system. Engineers designed and contractors built bioretention facilities in the parking lot that mimic nature in capturing rainwater. Students and volunteers also helped plant native trees and flowering shrubs to create rain gardens.
Make a Difference
Together we can find creative solutions to tackle our most complex conservation challenges and build a stronger future for people and nature. Will you help us continue this work?