For Clean Water, Just Add Nature

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For Clean Water, Just Add Nature


Guest post by Severn Smith, The Nature Conservancy

Did you know that stormwater runoff is the fastest-growing source of freshwater pollution in the world and in the Chesapeake Bay watershed? Stormwater runoff happens when rainwater hits impervious surfaces like roads and collects pollutants such as oil, sediment and trash before flowing into our sewers and waterways. More than 3 billion gallons of stormwater runoff and sewage flow into DC’s local rivers each year, eventually ending up in the Chesapeake Bay. Clean-up efforts over the past several decades have focused primarily on reducing agricultural nutrient and sediment pollution, which remains the largest source of pollution entering the Bay.

Cities like DC are growing at a faster rate than ever before. In the United States, more than 80 percent of Americans now live in cities – a rate that is projected to increase over the coming decade –and agriculture is essential to feeding this growing population. So, what can we do?

Nature Can Help

The Nature Conservancy is working in the Bay watershed to address stormwater runoff and agricultural nutrient pollution by implementing nature-based solutions, otherwise known as “green infrastructure.” In our agricultural communities, we work with farmers to increase the precision application of fertilizer on the fields. We also work with public and private partners to restore floodplains and wetlands downstream from farm communities to naturally store and filter the nutrients and sediment before they end up in the Bay. And in DC, we are working with elected officials, private equity companies, developers and landowners to expand the use of green infrastructure, which captures stormwater runoff before it reaches the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers.

Pocomoke River Floodplain Restoration

The Nature Conservancy, along with federal and state partners, recently completed the first stage of a major project to restore floodplain connectivity to a nine-mile stretch of the Pocomoke River, which was dredged and channelized in the mid-20th century. Restoring the floodplain along this Eastern Shore river will filter more than 67,000 pounds of nitrogen, 22,000 pounds of phosphorous and 32,000 pounds of sediment every year, before they reach the Bay. The project is one of the largest ecological restoration projects in Maryland’s history.

Mount Olivet Cemetery

The Nature Conservancy is collaborating with the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington on a first-of-its-kind green infrastructure project at Mount Olivet Cemetery, which could potentially prevent millions of gallons of polluted stormwater from flowing into the Anacostia river. The project will generate credits for sale on DC’s stormwater retention credit market, and is the result of an innovative joint venture called District Stormwater LLC, founded by TNC’s NatureVest conservation investing unit and Encourage Capital, an asset management firm based in New York.

What’s Next?

When you think of rebuilding America’s infrastructure, things like rain gardens and wetlands probably don’t spring to mind. But they should.

These projects may not be as flashy as a massive new seawall or state-of the-art water treatment plant. But green infrastructure solutions can often provide the same services as traditional manmade structures and often do so at less cost. Plus, they provide great environmental benefits for free.

Learn more about The Nature Conservancy and donate at


PHOTO CREDIT: Sustainable DC