The Watts Branch Stream Restoration Project has transformed a stream from a dumping ground to a vibrant community asset in an underserved community in Washington, D.C.’s Ward 7. Although urban stream restoration is nothing new, the complexity of the Watts Branch project and the web of agencies and actions involved in its restoration make it a model urban stream restoration.
By looking at stream restoration from a watershed approach, the District Department of the Environment (DDOE) engaged numerous local and federal partners (including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Department of Parks and Recreation, D.C. Water, District Department of Transportation, and the D.C. Public Schools) to jointly restore the Watts Branch tributary of the Anacostia River. Through a coordinated approach, the partners repaired the stream valley’s sewer network, reduced impervious cover while increasing infiltration and retention practices, and expanded the tree canopy both along the stream and in upland areas.
The stream restoration, completed in spring 2012, involved reshaping the channel with a natural channel stream design, which reduced channel erosion, created pools and riffles to support aquatic life, and reestablished streamside vegetation. In addition to the in-stream work, DDOE and partners worked on multiple upland projects to reduce the amount of stormwater flowing into Watts Branch, including a green roof and rain harvest and reuse system installed at a local high school; a tree planting project that added 600 trees to upland areas in the watershed; and two large-scale roadside projects to capture and filter stormwater from roadways in the watershed. Another major component of the project was the rehabilitation of sewer lines in the stream valley, which removed five sewer lines crossing the stream and repaired more than 1,500 feet of sewer lines paralleling the stream.
The biggest challenge was not the stream project itself, but rather the coordination of the assortment of watershed restoration activities going on at the same time in the same area. The largest hurdle was ensuring that complementary projects were implemented in sequential order while factoring in funding time limits, multiple property owners, an assortment of federal and local permits for each project, and independent contracting processes. Although the project took longer than anticipated (a total of five years to plan and design and 13 months to construct), as a result of good pre-project coordination the stream project and its complementary upland projects, all were accomplished in an a timely sequential order. During the planning and design period, other upland projects (such as low-impact development and tree plantings) were undertaken.
Results to Date:
- 10,000+ trees and shrubs planted throughout the watershed, as well as thousands of grasses and herbaceous plants along stream corridor and upland areas.
- Re-grading of stream banks and installation of rock structures to control stream flows and stabilize stream channel.
- Creation of deep pools for fish habitat and improvements for fish passage.
- Removal of 51,000 pounds of total suspended solids; 400 pounds of nitrogen; and 70 pounds of phosphorous from Watts Branch annually due to stream bank stabilization.
- Improved 1.7 mile stretch of park space.
- Urban forestry job training for 35 area youth, administered in partnership with a local non-governmental organization.
- Capture and treatment of more than 10 acres of impervious area in the watershed through innovative Green Streets projects.
- Creation of outdoor environmental education space for area schools and children.
- Through the suite of in-stream and upland work, the District expects to see improved water quality over the coming years in Watts Branch, increased signs of wildlife, and a restored riparian corridor for the entire 1.7 mile stretch of the restored stream. The end result is a stream that will become a community asset, hopefully spurring economic development, enhancing social interactions, and connecting an underserved community to the natural environment.
Environmental Protection Specialist, Watershed Protection Division
District Department of the Environment