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Stormwater Solutions

How we're using green infrastructure to reduce stormwater runoff in Maryland.

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Healing DC's Rivers

Green space can improve water quality in the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers.

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To secure clean water for residents of the D.C. metro area and communities downstream, we need to unleash the power of nature to help make cities more resilient, livable places where ultimately both nature and people can thrive.

First United Methodist Church in Hyattsville, Maryland, means more to the community than a place to worship on Sundays. Its services for local families include a day care center and a food pantry. In 2015, the church acted to reverse a not-so-positive contribution: 3 million gallons of stormwater runoff annually. Built long before urban stormwater became recognized as a rising threat to clean water, the church and three-acre parking lot shed stormwater into Wells Run, an Anacostia River tributary.

Runoff occurs when hard surfaces such as roofs and pavement prevent stormwater from soaking into the ground. Instead, this water picks up trash and pollutants, overburdens sewer systems, and flushes into the nearest streams and rivers, destroying wildlife and habitat.

The worst consequences fall upon residents who live along the river, including lower-income or homeless people who have few options but to eat fish tainted by pollution from the river. But thanks to The Nature Conservancy’s supporters and our partnership with the Anacostia Watershed Society, the church now has a natural stormwater filtration system.

For the parking lots, engineers designed and contractors built bioretention facilities that mimic nature in capturing rainwater. Students and volunteers also helped plant native trees and flowering shrubs to create rain gardens.

“This demonstration project will benefit from the high visibility that gathering places such as churches offer,” says Kahlil Kettering, urban conservation director. “It’s also a prototype for expanding our stormwater partnerships in D.C.”

Bolstering this initiative, Prudential Financial announced at a White House event in March that it will invest $1.7 million toward a pilot collaboration between the Conservancy and Encourage Capital to build natural filtration systems across D.C. through the city’s new stormwater retention market. This new venture is expected to prevent millions of gallons of polluted stormwater runoff from reaching the Anacostia River.

The city’s new market-based permitting process is the first in the world. By engaging in this market, Kahlil says, “the Conservancy will not only advance the cleanup of our local urban waterways and the Chesapeake Bay, but also show other American cities how to solve their stormwater challenges by unleashing the power of nature.” 

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