Stormwater runoff is the fastest growing source of pollution in the Chesapeake Bay. Increased development throughout the watershed has reduced the natural ground cover which is equipped to absorb and filter water during storm events. Asphalt, concrete, or other impervious structures such as homes or commercial buildings are replacing these natural ground covers. These impervious materials lack the capacity to absorb or filter stormwater, and instead, any water that hits the surface will flow over it to the point of lowest elevation, usually a storm sewer. Every year within the District of Columbia, 25 million gallons of stormwater are discharged from impervious surfaces into local waterways via storm sewers. This amount far exceeds DC’s Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) of nutrients which are allowed to enter in its rivers and streams as determined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. To combat this pollution, the District Department of Energy & Environment (DOEE) began a “RiverSmart” initiative in 2007 with the goal of decreasing stormwater runoff through the implementation of best management practices (BMPs) in residential properties, commercial properties, houses of worship, and schools. These BMPs include shade trees, rain gardens, BayScape gardens, rain barrels, and replacement of impervious surface with pervious surface.

The RiverSmart Homes Program installations began in 2009, working towards recharging existing groundwater, as well as drastically diminishing the amount of stormwater runoff entering the District’s three major natural bodies of water: the Anacostia River, Potomac River and Rock Creek. Since its inception, RiverSmart Homes has installed 4,815 rain barrels, 1,335 BayScapes (native plant gardens), 902 rain gardens, planted 6,073 trees, and has removed 409 impervious surfaces and replaced the area with vegetation or permeable paver systems. DOEE continues to work with its current partners, the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay and Casey Trees to increase the number of RiverSmart projects throughout the District.

Over six million square feet of land in the District is currently being treated by RiverSmart Homes BMPs (roughly the size of 106 football fields!), recharging the ground water and preventing untreated stormwater from entering the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers, and Rock Creek. All of the program’s partners have made significant financial and organizational investments to safeguard RiverSmart’s success and ensure that the installed BMPs will be properly maintained and functioning for years to come.

RiverSmart has made educating homeowners about stormwater pollution a top priority. The Alliance teaches homeowners and contractors about stormwater in a variety of ways, but special importance is placed on maintenance education. A BMP that is not properly maintained could lose some of its stormwater value and become increasingly inefficient over time, thus devaluing the systems. Through the lens of maintenance, homeowners can learn more about why their newly installed projects protect the Chesapeake Bay watershed and what they can do to ensure that these systems will help keep their waterways clean for years to come.

Jordan Gochenaur (right) with Bona Terra, LLC teaches landscape contractors how to install a rain garden at a contractor training co-sponsored by Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay and the District Department of Energy & Environment (Washington, DC).

One way that this goal is accomplished is through the distribution of maintenance schedules. Contractors affiliated with RiverSmart Homes who install rain gardens and BayScape gardens are provided with maintenance schedules, who then distribute the documents to homeowners who have had one of these BMPs installed. The schedules detail what actions the homeowners should take each month to ensure that their garden will remain healthy and vibrant. Recipients of rain barrels receive a maintenance tutorial by their barrel installer along with a maintenance guide and seasonal e-mails with recommendations for how to best care for their new water storage systems. Soon, homeowners will be able to use technology in other ways to learn more about their BMPs.

DOEE has released two maintenance video series on the landscaping practices – BayScaping and rain gardens – on their YouTube channel. Elizabeth Brown, a Watershed Protection Specialist with DOEE, stated that the videos “walk homeowners through the basic maintenance tasks associated with these practices: weeding, watering, mulching, replacing dead plants, and, for rain gardens, cleaning the inlet to the garden.” The remaining maintenance videos, which highlight basic rain barrel, shade tree, and permeable paver maintenance tasks, will be released on the same channel within the coming year. Brown added, “We hope these videos will be an empowering tool for homeowners as they maintain their RiverSmart Homes practices, providing them with more confidence in their own maintenance abilities and improving the efficacy of the RiverSmart green infrastructure installations.” The videos will have subtitles in both English and Spanish and will also be shared with homeowners through e-mail and other social media outlets.

Marty Frye, an arborist with Casey Trees, described some of the ways he educates homeowners about their newly-installed shade trees. When speaking to homeowners after an installation, Marty is able to easily answer any questions they have about maintenance. He then gives the homeowner a brochure which clearly and concisely details how to care for their new young tree, which they can continually refer to throughout the first three crucial years of a tree’s life. If using a computer is more intuitive than reading through a brochure, Frye went on to say, “[Casey Trees] has a watering alert at the top of our weekly newsletter. From May to October, it is the first thing that someone will see.”

The Alliance is actively expanding its maintenance outreach initiatives in order to provide a variety of outlets for homeowners to learn about stormwater management and maintenance techniques. Some upcoming projects include the creation of a door hanger for homeowners and their neighbors, detailed maintenance homeowner guides, maintenance magnets, and “garden party” maintenance workshops where homeowners will have the opportunity to learn how to care for their landscaping practices outdoors with an experienced contractor. With the expansion of these resources, it will be easier than ever to learn how to properly maintain a RiverSmart BMP.

Maintenance is an on-going process which requires homeowners to stay engaged years after the installation of their RiverSmart practice is complete. In order for a RiverSmart BMP to really make a positive impact within the watershed, homeowners must remain active participants in the process. This can be challenging, but through the implementation of creative solutions, the Alliance aims to continue to educate homeowners about stormwater with the hope that every green infrastructure practice that is installed will continue to flourish for many years to come.