Stream restoration is a practice that helps to keep the Chesapeake Bay Watershed clean and provides several benefits for the local community.
Virginia — along with Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and the District of Columbia — are in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed and are governed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations. Those regulations dictate how much nutrients and sediments, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, are permitted to be released from a given area into the Bay daily. It is the responsibility of local governments, like Prince William County, to meet the regulatory requirements through practices such as stream restoration.
Aside from keeping streams flowing cleanly into the Bay, stream restoration has benefits for local residents. Streams that don’t receive excessive stormwater runoff, or streams that are designed to handle the current storm water runoff conditions, won’t flood property or cause other damage. Restored or stabilized streams can improve our local communities, according to Tom Dombrowski, Prince William County Environmental Engineer.
Farming practices over the years contributed to excess of sediment and nutrients that reached the Chesapeake Bay through erosion. Development, in its turn, with parking lots and roads, created “impervious areas” that keep water from being absorbed into the ground. Lacking absorption, water runs into the streams that can’t always handle the excessive influx of stormwater. Both practices changed the landscape of the watershed over the years.
Reinforcing/stabilizing stream banks and planting a tree buffer outside the edge of the stream can help stabilize a degraded stream channel, Dombrowski said. “Historically, we cleared all of this land for farming and in doing that, the erosion factor increased significantly. What we have as the flood plain now is not what existed a long time ago, and the current excessive storm water runoff has created an unbalanced stream system,” Tom Dombrowski said. “One of the major goals in the science of stream restoration is to reconnect the stream to the flood plain so the stream may find this balance.”
“When it gets out of whack or out of balance, excessive storm water starts cutting into the stream bank and channel trying to find a way to accommodate the excess flow. It’s trying to find its own equilibrium. It’s trying to find the best way to flow,” Dombrowski said.
The county just finished reinforcing an eroded stream bank behind the baseball fields at Andrew Leitch Park. Other stream restoration projects that are completed or coming up include projects at James Long Park, Locust Shade Park, Cow Branch along U.S. 1 Corridor, Powell’s Creek, and Dewey’s Creek located in Dumfries.
Dombrowski said the restoration construction process can be a bit painful, but the results are worth the trouble. “Sometimes you have to make it look worse before it gets better. We have to dig and cut some trees. We have to cut into the banks. It’s a messy ordeal, but in the long run when the results are in, the payoff is it’s going to be stable; it’s going to look neat; it’s going to protect County infrastructure, protect property and achieve the goals of habitat enhancement and improve water quality.”
“The selection of a stream project is based on the condition of the stream and how is it affecting our infrastructure. If based on our assessment a stream’s in good shape we won’t touch it.”
For more information about stream restoration or information on how you can help with stream issues, please contact the Prince William County Department of Public Works, Watershed Management Branch, at 703-792-7070 or the Prince William Soil and Water Conservation District at 571-379-7514.