Forest Heights hopes new runoff filter will inspire residents to go green

September 28, 2011

Forest Heights Mayor Jacqueline E. Goodall hopes one day to have a stormwater management system in place to filter pollutants from the town’s runoff before it enters local waterways.

And she is encouraging residents to do the same.

Town officials have moved a step closer to that goal with the installation of bioretention ponds, a cistern and three 250-gallon rain barrels at the town administration building at 5508 Arapahoe Dr.

The $225,000 project began in late August and is expected to be completed by Oct. 22. It uses sand to filter particulates from storm-water runoff, which will reduce pollutants in the water and help with flood control, Goodall said.

In addition to the new system, a demonstration site will be set up in front of the town administration building for residents to learn how to install their own systems at home, Goodall said

“This will ensure that we’re doing our part in protecting the environment and our drinking water and making a difference to the whole area watershed,” she said.

The town is part of the Oxon Run watershed, which flows through the District and Maryland and runs parallel to Southern Avenue as it crosses the District line and flows into the Potomac River at Oxon Cove.

Rainwater and snowmelt runs off streets, lawns, farms and construction and industrial sites, picking up fertilizers, dirt, pesticides, oil and grease and other pollutants on the way to rivers, lakes and coastal waters, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Goodall said residents can do their part in protecting what goes into the water by limiting activities such as washing cars in driveways and spraying pesticides on grass.

“We have to be ever so careful in not getting those types of pollutants into our water system,” she said.

Goodall said the town paid for $26,000 toward the total cost for the new system, which was installed by DC Greenworks, a District-based nonprofit that provides for the consultation, design and installation of managing storm-water runoff. The rest was funded through grants from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which help municipalities protect watersheds and revise and create codes and ordinances to better protect water quality.

The new system is one of several environmental initiatives the town has spearheaded in recent years, including the installation of solar panels, energy-efficient interior features and a vegetated green roof to the town administration building, and creek cleanups at Oxon Run.

Goodall said Forest Heights also became a part of Sustainable Maryland Certified in August, a free and voluntary program sponsored by the Environmental Finance Center at the University of Maryland, College Park, in which municipalities can earn points for certification through instituting a variety of programs designed to promote environmental sustainability.

Forest Heights is a town of about 2,500 residents and 963 homes that straddles both sides of Route 210 and is near the Capital Beltway, the Woodrow Wilson Bridge and National Harbor.

“We are the gateway city to the capital,” said council member William E. Clarke (Ward 3). “It will show other municipalities what we can do, and if we can do it, others can do it, too.”

Jonathon Kennedy, 66, who has lived in the town since 1980, said the new stormwater runoff system shows that the town “is going in the right direction.”

His son, Jonathon Kennedy II, is a Ward 2 council man and president of the town council.

“I think it’s the best idea we’ve had and something that’s been long overdue,” the elder Kennedy said. “We’ve had problems with drainage and, once it is done, it will help with runoff in the drains and the water problems that we have.”

Lt. Calvin Washington of the Forest Heights Police Department said that, during the week prior to Hurricane Irene, he watched as muddy water that entered one end of a bioretention pond came out “crystal clear.”

“It definitely works,” he said. “I was so impressed. I had my doubts.”

Clarke said he is hopeful a stormwater management system can be built for the entire town, but added that the town has a number of other problems to address, such as repairing and updating its storm drains, some of which are collapsing.

“I think if we can get the money for it and do it right, we’ll be successful,” he said.

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