The streets we travel during our evening walks or work commutes are full of twists and turns, bumps and curves. These same streets carry the oil that drips from our cars, the fertilizers we spray on our yards, the salt laid on the street in preparation for the snow that inevitably doesn’t fall, and many more pollutants. When it rains, these same twists and turns carry those drops of water through our neighborhoods, yards, and parks before draining into our rivers, and eventually the Chesapeake Bay. There are numerous small actions we can take to decrease the quantity of pollutants like oil, fertilizer, and salt that will inevitably make their way into the Chesapeake Bay.

Environmental stewardship looks like many things. It looks like chatting with your neighbor about native plants on a Saturday morning, coffee cup in one hand, black-eyed Susan in the other. It looks like helping your elderly neighbor empty their rain barrel, or like handing out flyers about stormwater runoff at a community event in your neighborhood park. The list goes on and on, but at the end of the day, it’s individuals taking responsible steps to protect and conserve the environment to enhance ecosystem resilience and human wellbeing. In the case of a group of folks in DC, it’s a commitment they have made to share information with their neighbors on stormwater issues and practices that can help alleviate these same issues, while serving as a voice for their communities. These folks are known as the RiverSmart Homes (RSH) Ambassadors.

Two people smiling and holding trash bags.

RiverSmart Homes Ambassador, Kim Sturdivant and her son George Sturdivant picking up trash in Oxon Run Park during the spring PCS kickoff event

The RiverSmart Homes Program began in 2008 and the district-wide program offers incentives to homeowners to reduce stormwater runoff from their properties. These stormwater reducing practices can include rain barrels, shade trees, rain gardens, conservation landscaping, and permeable pavers. Community members have been natural stewards of the program since its infancy, but in 2022 the Ambassador Program launched to provide an outlet for community members to take on an even bigger role and increase their impact.

Thriving communities and thriving environmental conditions go hand in hand. When one is off, the other is unable to reach its full potential. Stewards play an important role in maintaining this balance – they are the bridge. They meet folks where they are. The places where we live, reside, play, and work are some of the most crucial spaces. We all want to spend our day-to-day lives in areas that are flourishing, so that we, along with our families and friends can live the highest quality of life. By increasing access to stormwater best management practices, and providing education on how these installations treat stormwater, Ambassadors are able to assist us in better meeting the needs of our communities. There is a saying that, “you don’t know what you don’t know”. Stormwater isn’t something most of us stay awake at night deliberating over. Water, however, is a powerful resource. Excess stormwater can dramatically impact our homes and other infrastructure through flooding, pooling, and causing poor water quality in our waterways. RSH Ambassadors share this vital message with their communities to connect their neighbors to resources that alleviate some of these challenges, and ultimately lead to a healthier Chesapeake Bay community.

A person holding smiling while holding vines near a river.

RiverSmart Homes Ambassador, Rodrick West, removing invasive vines in Anacostia Park during a community cleanup.

Stewardship programs like the RSH Ambassador Program launch because individuals recognize a gap and want to fill it. Folks can actively engage in stewardship without engaging in a formal Ambassador program. The best place to start is to explore topics, challenges, and issues that you are already passionate about. Is it education, gardening, trees, stormwater, etc? We all have different interests, and also different strong points. Some of us are natural communicators, while others may be in their element getting their hands dirty working outside. Stewardship comes from within, and it’s about finding the gaps and uplifting our communities through avenues we are already engaging in. It’s about finding ways to take that same engagement a step further.

As I write this piece I’m preparing to leave this watershed and embrace a new one in San Diego, California, as I pursue my Masters degree. While my time at the Alliance is coming to a close, I am more than ever pondering and inspired by the concept of stewardship, and the steps we are willing to take to show care for something we love and appreciate. I’ve had the privilege of calling the Chesapeake Bay watershed my home for my entire life, and as a member of this community I feel a personal responsibility to care for it. As I prepare to leave this special place in the world, I feel inspired by all of the individuals I’ve witnessed give their heart, soul, and time to this goal we are all working towards – the goal of creating a healthy, thriving, vibrant watershed for all who reside here.

Two people posing while holding a garter snake.

Amanda Bland (left) and Kristen Parsons (right) found a Garter snake in an old, buried backpack during the spring Project Clean Stream kickoff event in Oxon Run Park.