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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 to respect and care for the earth.
This shared interest in the natural world has led to an innovative collaboration with the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington to use non-burial lands to address the growing environmental problem of urban stormwater pollution.
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. Stormwater then flows into our cities’ sewer systems and rivers, eventually reaching the Chesapeake Bay. Up to 3 billion gallons of stormwater run-off and sewage flow into D.C.’s rivers each year.
But nature can help.
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.
At Mount Olivet, approximately 18,000 square feet of impervious surface is being replaced with rain gardens in the first project to result from District Stormwater LLC, an innovative joint venture founded by the Conservancy and Encourage Capital, an asset management firm based in New York. The work is being performed by a local contractor that specializes in ecological construction projects.
“This project is expected to prevent the runoff of millions of gallons of stormwater into the nearby Anacostia River,” says Kahlil Kettering, the Conservancy’s urban conservation director. “And what’s equally exciting is that we believe this project will serve as a model to other cities around the country,” continues Kettering.
With the Mount Olivet project nearing completion, we’re poised to take our urban conservation work to the next level. Identifying new green infrastructure sites in D.C., engaging developers, and integrating social science to improve life quality through nature will be our focus in the coming year.
Nature Sacred, a program of the TKF Foundation, exists to inspire and support the creation of publicly accessible, urban green spaces. Designed to enable mindful reflection, respite and sanctuary, these Sacred Places reconnect people with nature in ways that help individuals, and thereby communities, to heal, thrive and come together.
Reconnecting urban communities to nature is a goal that the Nature Conservancy shares with TKF. The two organizations are working in partnership to design, build and maintain new Sacred Places in the D.C. region. By merging the Conservancy’s nature-based solutions with TKF’s concept for mindful urban renewal, we hope to show how a holistic approach can be a model for urban conservation programs in cities around the world.
The Mt. 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.
Press Release: The Nature Conservancy and DC’s Catholic Archdiocese collaborate on stormwater retention project at historic Mount Olivet Cemetery
Urban Waters: Kahlil Kettering talks to Nature Conservancy magazine's Courtney Leatherman about keeping city stormwater out of rivers.
A Triple Win: Nature Conservancy CEO Mark Tercek argues that green solutions should be top of mind when thinking about infrastructure.