Your Views: Rethink stream restorations

Your Views: Rethink stream restorations
The Taylor Run stream that runs through Chinquapin Park. (Photo/Missy Schrott)

To the editor:

According to Mayor Justin Wilson, streams like Taylor Run, Strawberry Run and Lucky Run – which carry stormwater off city streets, parking lots and yards – are in the city’s crosshairs and must be restored to reduce pollution that harms the Chesapeake Bay.

But restored – why and how, you might ask. The “why” is because the city says these stream channels are a big source of nutrient pollutants like nitrogen, phosphorus and fine sediments that can be washed downstream into the Bay when it rains.

Although these stream channels are not actually the major source of the pollution, the city doesn’t really care because it simply wants to obtain credit for reducing this pollution. How does it do that if the streams are not the source of this pollution? It relies on flawed quasi-scientific models that are supported by states like Virginia, which also doesn’t care about the science behind these projects. Both parties simply want to make the Environmental Protection Agency believe they have helped save the Bay by restoring urban streams like Taylor Run, Strawberry Run and Lucky Run.

In this arrangement, Alexandria receives a state grant to help fund this ecological destruction. Everyone wins except for the Bay and forested streams like Taylor Run, which are bulldozed and reengineered using what are perversely called natural channel design techniques.

This type of stream restoration also enables Alexandria to avoid doing anything extra to curb the impact of development on these streams and the Bay. For example, the stormwater that runs off Bradlee Shopping Center, which carries pollutants of all sorts into streams including Taylor Run and into the Potomac River and Bay, is not reduced under this restoration plan. The streams will bear the impact of this negligence.

But hey, it’s easier and cheaper to claim you are simply trying to restore a stream running through a city park or near someone’s backyard than it is to fix the real problems.

The science supporting similar stream restoration projects is quite flawed. In fact, the streams are not to blame for the pollution, rather the stormwater gushing through these stream channels is the culprit. Under the city’s plan, tons of new sediment, along with nutrients, will be dumped into these stream channels to build new floodplains and create new meanders. The riparian forests will be cut down to make room for this “restoration,” thus depriving Alexandrians and the Bay of their ecological benefits.

Under this scenario, the streams will widen and deepen their channels again, as they remove all this artificial sediment, especially in heavily developed urban areas like Alexandria. This should not be a surprise to anyone.

These streams can only be restored if we address the root cause of the erosion in these streams, which is caused by stormwater runoff from city streets, parking lots and yards. Since the stormwater is also the source of the pollution and the cause of urban flooding, what is needed is a comprehensive plan to treat this water and slow its arrival into streams and, potentially, homes downstream. But that’s not what Wilson and city officials want to do.

Several groups of citizens have made these points now for more than two years. On Sept. 10, at a public meeting run by the Virginia Institute for Engagement & Negotiation, we will see whether the mayor and city understand and care about the impact of these destructive projects or, if they are only concerned about receiving credits for doing nothing to protect or restore these streams or save the Bay.

-Andrew Macdonald, former vice mayor; chair, Environmental Council of Alexandria