Mount Olivet cemetery tour
GREENING DC Urban Conservation Director Kahlil Kettering leads a tour of the newly completed stormwater retention project at DC's historic Mount Olivet Cemetery. © The Nature Conservancy

Stories in Maryland/DC

How We Work: Nature in 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.

Stormwater runoff on a city street
Stormwater runoff Stormwater runoff is the fastest growing source of water pollution both in the Chesapeake Bay and worldwide. © Tyrone Turner

The Nature Conservancy is contributing to the Anacostia recovery by reducing polluted stormwater runoff in the river’s watershed.

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. Stormwater runoff is the fastest-growing source of pollution to the Bay.

Mount Olivet cemetery stormwater reduction project
Mount Olivet Construction in progress during a first-of-its-kind stormwater retention project at Washington, DC's historic Mount Olivet cemetery. © Matt Kane / TNC

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 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.

An illustration of the above- and below ground functions of a rain garden.
Natural Solutions An illustration of the above- and below ground functions of a rain garden. © The Nature Conservancy

Natural Solutions

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 historic 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.

Cemeteries and Stormwater A first-of-its-kind green infrastructure project aims to capture stormwater runoff at DC's historic Mt. Olivet Cemetery.

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.

Canopy Award for Sustainability The Maryland/DC chapter is honored to be recognized by Casey Trees for our work on the groundbreaking stormwater retention project at historic Mount Olivet Cemetery.

The Archdiocese and TNC are also coordinating on two other environmental enhancement projects at Mount Olivet, which are being implemented in collaboration with two of TNC’s close partners.

Casey Trees and TNC have installed more than 150 new trees at the cemetery and the TKF Foundation will work with TNC to install a commemorative, native pollinator garden and bench.  These projects will provide habitat for wildlife, water filtration benefits, and shade and places of rest for visitors.


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.   

Helping Nature Heal See how rain gardens are making a huge difference in fighting water pollution, helping nature heal itself.


Kahlil Kettering
Urban Conservation Program Director

Additional Resources

  • Nature in Cities

    (3.72 MB PDF)

    Natural solutions to environmental challenges in urban communities.