A fundamental goal of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay has been to create partnerships among varying groups in a unified effort to protect and restore the Chesapeake Bay and its waterways. This collaborative approach to restoration remains strongly rooted in the Alliance’s mission and is evident among the Alliance’s programs and projects. One such program, the RiverSmart Homes Program, has shown great promise in its ability to reduce stormwater runoff from residential properties and hopefully will serve as a model for many jurisdictions to follow.

Stormwater is a major source of pollution that affects the entire Chesapeake watershed, from the far-reaching headwaters of Pennsylvania and New York down to the main-stem Chesapeake itself. Stormwater may carry with it sediment, nutrients from lawns, waste from farms and pets, oil and litter from streets, and many more contaminants before flowing into streams or entering storm drains to be transported directly into the nearest local waterway. This ubiquitous problem poses a great challenge to the restoration of the Chesapeake as pollution may enter waterways a number of ways and crosses all walks of life. However, as such, all citizens within the Chesapeake watershed can help make positive changes in the reduction of stormwater runoff and they can start right in their own backyards.

A before and after shot of a RiverSmart Homes installation

The RiverSmart Homes program is an innovative program, developed by the District Department of the Environment (DDOE), designed to reduce stormwater runoff on private property within the District of Columbia. To encourage private citizens to engage in stormwater reduction on their own properties, the RiverSmart Homes program provides grant funding to District residents to be used towards the installation of shade trees, rain barrels, rain gardens, BayScaping, and removal of impervious surface.  The goals of this incentive program include reducing the quantity and improving quality of stormwater runoff, recharging groundwater, increasing habitat diversity, and promoting water conservation and watershed stewardship.

RiverSmart Partners:

  • Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay
  • Behnke’s Nursery Company
  • Casey Trees
  • DC Greenworks
  • District Dept of the Environment
  • District Dept of Transportation
  • EP Henry
  • First Impression Hardscapes
  • Green Gardens
  • Independance Landscape
  • J&G Landscape Design, Inc.
  • John Shorb Landscaping
  • Meadow Farms Landscaping
  • Scapes, Inc.

The Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay was selected by DDOE to coordinate the installation of rain gardens, BayScape gardens, and replacement of impervious surfaces with pervious surfaces. Through this program, homeowners are given a $1200 grant credit towards the installation of one of these landscape enhancement projects. The RiverSmart program involves partnership among government, non-profits, businesses, and citizens to successfully reduce stormwater runoff and improve local water quality.

Under the pilot phase of the RiverSmart Homes program, 100 rain garden, BayScaping, or reduction of impervious surface projects were completed between spring of 2009 and spring of 2010 within a targeted area of the Pope Branch watershed in the south east portion of the District. In addition, shade tree and rain barrel installations were performed by Casey Trees and DC Greenworks respectively under the pilot program. This phase of the program was funded through grants from the EPA and locally collected stormwater utility fees. Opinions and comments from all participating parties were encouraged and welcomed. Feedback gathered from District homeowners, landscape contractors, and other partner organizations was utilized to modify the program to make it more effective and efficient.

The RiverSmart Homes program continues, serving property owners District-wide. The Alliance has been coordinating the installation of 296 projects, funded by the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act (ARRA), which has helped to create and retain jobs while assisting in the effort to reduce stormwater runoff in the nation’s capitol. Currently, 240 of the 296 projects have been completed. Due to the high level of interest shown by District residents for the program, the Alliance is working to complete the next set of 130 additional projects, bringing the grand total of RiverSmart projects to be completed by Fall 2011 to 526 installations. Additional RiverSmart projects are being planned.

DDOE has sponsored three landscape contractor trainings to assist the Alliance with increasing contractor participation within the RiverSmart Homes program. New landscape companies were encouraged to attend the trainings to learn more about rain garden and BayScape garden installation using native plants and to receive information about the RiverSmart Homes program. These companies may then utilize these environmentally friendly landscaping techniques to install RiverSmart projects and/or use them as part of the services they offer to their existing clientele. In addition to educating contractors of the benefits of installing rain gardens and landscaping with native plants, RiverSmart Homes also aims to educate District homeowners regarding how they may help to increase wildlife habitat diversity, recharge groundwater supplies, and reduce the amount of chemicals used on their lawns and gardens while reducing the amount of stormwater runoff that leaves their property. Many homeowners choose not only to take advantage of the grant funding provided by the RiverSmart Homes, but also to invest their own time and money to implement additional landscape enhancements on their property as recommended through the program. A BayScape garden uses native plants that are indigenous to the Chesapeake Bay region. Native plants typically require less maintenance than other plants found at local nurseries or hardware stores. Once native plants are established, they require little or no water, fertilizer, and pesticides and may provide wildlife habitat and attract pollinators such as butterflies, hummingbirds, and bees. Native plants can be used to stabilize steep slopes and decrease lawn area that must be mowed. Rain gardens are landscaped with native plants to collect, store and infiltrate stormwater runoff in its loose amended soil and are strategically placed to intercept stormwater runoff until it can be fully absorbed into the ground. Often times, down spouts may be directed into rain gardens or rain barrels to capture rainwater from rooftops to allow for slow release into the ground or even for use in watering gardens or washing cars, preventing rapid flow across the ground and into storm drains that often overwhelms the stormwater system.

The Alliance remains committed to assisting with the implementation of the RiverSmart Homes program and its overall goal of reducing stormwater runoff, thus improving the water quality of local waterways, and is encouraged by the level of commitment from concerned citizens, businesses, non-profit organizations, and government entities towards this effort. For more information on the RiverSmart Homes Program, please visit the RiverSmart Homes page at www.allianceforthebay.org/?page_id=816 and www.ddoe.dc.gov/riversmarthomes.

Jamie Alberti is currently the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay’s Program Coordinator for the RiverSmart Homes Program. She has been involved with a number of Alliance programs since 1999.