Fresh and Clean, or Fresh and Green?

by Matt Colip

O Street NW, in DC, was revitalized to control stormwater  with 33 individual rain gardens built with native plants.

O Street NW, in DC, was revitalized to control stormwater with 33 individual rain gardens.

I’ve always enjoyed walking along new city streets.  The sidewalks are crisp and clean, free from chewing gum and spill marks.  There are no chassis-rattling potholes in the road.  It’s reminiscent of the new car feel, everything seems minted.

In Washington, D.C., and a growing number of communities in EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region, residents and businesses are getting a bonus when it comes to new road construction – green features to control stormwater runoff.

The nation’s capital, like many older cities in the United States, is faced with the perpetual challenges of revitalizing streets and managing a combined sewer system that mixes stormwater and sewage into large underground pipes that feed the wastewater treatment plant.  The challenge for city governments is that residents want the fresh and clean feel on their streets, and a guarantee that their sewage will reach the treatment plant and not overflow into a river because too much stormwater has flooded the system.  To meet these demands, the District, under the leadership of Mayor Muriel Bowser, has chosen to build fresh and clean streets that are also fresh and “green.”

I accompanied our EPA Regional Administrator, Shawn M. Garvin, recently as he helped cut the ribbon for one of the District’s newest green street projects – this one along the 200 block of O Street NW, a street that has been closed to traffic since 1977.

In addition to integrating green infrastructure into street rehabilitation, the revitalized O Street now includes 33 individual rain gardens along the sidewalks that are landscaped with native plants. These rain gardens capture the runoff from an area 5,732 square feet in size – about 20% bigger than a standard basketball court – and keep the water out of the sewer system.  Rainwater and sewage that flows into this part of the District’s sewer system risks overflowing into the Anacostia River.  The more stormwater that is diverted from the combined sewer system, the less likely an overflow will occur into the river.

Not only does O Street now capture rainwater, it will have a new tree canopy from the trees planted street along its sidewalks.  These trees will also slurp up stormwater, keeping it from entering the sewer system, and eventually provide shaded areas.  This shade will reduce the heat island effect of the black asphalt.  Overall, the street looks great!

This work was funded in part through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Green Streets, Green Jobs, Green Towns (G3) initiative, a program administered by EPA and the Chesapeake Bay Trust. The green infrastructure approach of the partners in this project – the District’s Departments of Energy & Environment, Transportation, and General Services – supports the G3 program goals of improving water quality, community livability and economic vitality.


About the author: Matt Colip is a state and congressional liaison in the region’s Office of Communications and Government Relations. He previously worked in the region’s water programs, enforcing wastewater and stormwater regulations. In addition to SCUBA diving, Matt is an avid bicyclist and enjoys riding with friends and colleagues.


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