Down the Drain, the Story of Urban Water

The second lecture focuses on stormwater runoff.

Students examine how human development degrades their Accotink Creek Watershed and eventually the Chesapeake Bay.   By taking a close look at the school’s footprint, students are able to analyze the impact their 40 acre campus actually has on Accotink Creek.

Non-point source pollution becomes a major topic as students consider contaminants coming from parking lots and roads.  The sheer volume of runoff is daunting.  In an average rain event, 887,951 gallons of stormwater drain from Fairfax High School.

Lands and Waters presenters, David Alford and Chethan Kenkeremath, lead students on waters journey.  Jeanette Stewart, President of Lands and Waters joins in the discussion.

Lands and Waters presenters, David Alford and Chethan Kenkeremath, lead students on water’s journey. Jeanette Stewart, President of Lands and Waters, joins in the discussion.

Taking a closer look at the school grounds.  63% of the campus are impervious.

Taking a closer look at the school grounds, 63% of the campus is impervious.

That leads only 37% pervious and available to absorb rainwater.

Only 37% of the campus is pervious and able to absorb rainwater.  No wonder there is so much stormwater runoff.

 

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Fairfax Water, Fairfax High School: New Partners, New Program.

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A number of years ago, Lands and Waters created a program called “Follow the Water”.  The program has been  successfully presented in elementary and middle schools.  This year, with the generous support of Fairfax Water, Lands and Waters is piloting a more sophisticated version of the program at Fairfax High School.  Over one hundred students in the AP Environmental Studies Program are participating, with Bradley Webster as the host teacher.

Lands and Waters has brought together local experts to lead classroom lectures accompanied by field labs.  Please follow us over this school year, as students investigate aspects of watershed health and human impact.

Classroom instruction is kept to a minimum, in order to maximize outdoor field studies.

Dan Schwartz, Soil Scientist, with Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District presents a brief in-class introduction to soils.

Dan Schwartz, Soil Scientist, Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District, presents a brief in-class introduction to soils.

A student helps auger a core soil sample.  This sample will enable students to investigate the soil structure, texture and disturbances associated with construction.

A student helps auger a core soil sample. This sample will enable students to investigate the soil structure, and texture as well as disturbances associated with construction.

Student helps secure a pipe to perform a perk test.  Analysis of the perk test will enable students to evaluate the permeability of their campus soil

A student helps secure a pipe to perform a perk test. Analysis of the perk test will enable students to evaluate the permeability of their campus soil.

Water is poured into the secured pipe. Over the next twenty-four hours water levels are measured and recorded in order to evaluate the permeability of the soil.  The results of this test indicate that the turf fields on campus are almost impervious with 85% of the rain water running off, and only 15% absorbed.  In contrast forest soil produces only 10% runoff, and absorbs roughly 85%.

Water is then poured into the secured pipe.

Over the next twenty-four hours water levels are measured and recorded in order to evaluate the permeability of the soil. The results of this test indicate that the turf fields on campus are almost impervious with 85% of the rain water running off, and only 15% absorbed or evaporated. In contrast forest soil produces only 10% runoff, with 85% absorbed or evaporated.

Students walk to the intermittent stream to investigate a different type of soil and the depth of the water table.

Students walk to a nearby intermittent stream to investigate a different type of soil and the depth of the water table.

The soil this student is holding exemplifies a wetland type soil, grey in color.

The soil this student is holding exemplifies a wetland type soil, grey in color.

As this student found out, wetland soil is not only grey in color, it has a distinctively unpleasant odor.

As this student found out, wetland soil is not only grey in color, it has a distinctively unpleasant odor.

Everyone experienced first hand just how wet and mucky anaerobic soil can be.

Everyone experienced first hand just how wet and mucky anaerobic soil can be.

It was a great first step into our advanced “Follow the Water” Program.  Naturally, we began with a foundation – the soil.

Thank you Dan Schwartz with Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation.

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Frost: Our diverse marsh, six months later

Students mix composted leaf mulch with excavated clay soil.

Students mix composted leaf mulch with excavated clay soil.

A student begins the Carex grayi planting.

A student begins the Carex grayi planting.

Carex grayi has an ornamental seed head.  It thrives in both sun and shade, in rain gardens and around storm drains.

Carex grayi has an ornamental seed head. It thrives in both sun and shade, in rain gardens and around storm drains.

A team of girls join in and the Carex planting is almost done.

A team of girls join in and the Carex planting is almost done.

Here's the first summer's growth of Hibiscus.  It really loves the rich, moist soil surrounding the drain.

Here’s the first summer’s growth of Hibiscus. It really loves the rich, moist soil surrounding the drain.

The native switch grass, Panicum virgatum 'Shenandoah' has tripled in size since its April planting.  A great plant for stormwater management.

The native switch grass, Panicum virgatum ‘Shenandoah’ has tripled in size since its April planting. A great plant for stormwater management.

By the end of the summer, the plants have matured enough to begin their hard work of filtering and holding back stormwater.

By the end of the summer, the plants have matured enough to begin their hard work of filtering and holding back stormwater.

 

Ready for a review?

Step 1:  Find a drain.

Step 2:  Remove turf grass adjacent to the drain to the size you want your garden to be.

Step 3:  Excavate existing soil any where from 6 – 12″ (depending on your energy level – deep is good!)

Step 4:  Mix excavated soil with composted leaf mulch; about 50-50.

Step 5:  Fill in the excavated area with the amended soil.

Step 6:  Plant tough, native plants that can tolerate both wet and dry conditions.

Step 7:  Topdress with leaf mulch.

 

Here’s what we put in our garden – so far!!!

Asclepias incarnata, swamp milkweed

Carex grayi, Gray’s sedge

Hibiscus moscheutos, Hibiscus

Ilex verticillata, winterberry holly

Iris versicolor, blueflag iris

Lobelia cardinalis, cardinal flower

Panicum virgatum ‘Shenandoah’, switch grass

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Frost:  From Mono-culture to Diverse Marsh,

Frost: From Mono-culture to Diverse Marsh,

           Thank you Chesapeake Bay Trust and Robert Frost PTA for providing funding for Phase One. Fall 2013 Frost Middle School began a multi-phase project that would totally transform a traditional courtyard into… A marsh and … Continue reading

Luther Jackson: From rainy work days to full blooms

Students from Luther Jackson get wet and muddy as they plant a Magnolia virginiana.

Last school year, Lands and Waters began a very exciting partnership with Luther Jackson Middle School.  The program included watershed education, coupled with the design and planting of a native pollinator garden in the very front of the school.  Our first work day was a blast!  The rain just added to the fun.                                                                                              

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 Many thanks to Project Learning Tree for funding this great project!

Luther Jackson students worked hard mixing soil.

Luther Jackson students working hard mixing soil.

Rudbeckia blooms dominate the landscape. They’ve been in bloom all summer and are still going strong.

Luther Jackson students have already begun to place plant identification signs in the landscape.

Students have already begun to place plant identification signs in the garden.

 

 

 

 

Accenture Workday at Kutner Park and Lanier MS

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Accenture joined us again this year for a volunteer workday on their annual Give-Back day! In partnership with the City of Fairfax Department of Parks and Recreation, we began the day working at Kutner Park in Fairfax, off of Jermantown Road near Route 50. Our crew of volunteers pulled vines where there was a dense invasion of English Ivy. They then planted some native vegetation to help enhance degraded areas of the park and prevent invasive species from regaining their footing.

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The Accenture volunteers then pickaxed their way through some tough compacted clay soil to prepare the area for Lanier Middle School students to plant.

Accenture Planting with EcoClub Students

The Accenture team then planted the bioretention cell with members of the Lanier EcoClub. Many of these students helped to envision the initial design for the rain garden while on their Stormwater Campus Tour with Lands and Waters. Sweetbay Magnolia and Lowbush Blueberry were two of the native plants selected for this area because of their high wildlife value.

Many thanks to the Accenture team, and James for pulling it all together!

Carlin Springs ES: Bog Expansion and Composting

November 9th, 2012

The bog is happy and healthy — and providing an oasis for the turtles! Students dig up more turf grass so that we can expand the area of our created wetland.

Carlin grub! Learning respect for all living organisms and debunking the myths that cause all those squeamish squeals associated with crawly critters — is at the heart of what we do!

Students planting woodland sedge around the hibernaculum

Learning about the magnificent marvels of the decomposing world through a primer on vermicomposting! Students harvest red wiggler worms from an older composting bin and create a new, roomier home for them. The richly fertile worm castings will provide new life and nutrients for our gardens.

Carlin Springs ES: Creating a Turtle Hibernaculum (Part 2)

November 2, 2012

Students amend the existing soil with rich, composted leaf mulch.

Students haul amended soil over to the hibernaculum area.

Rich soil is piled over hollowed logs so that there are numerous cavities for the turtles to easily dig themselves safely into the earth for the coming winter.

Ready for burrowing!

While we’re at it — a brush pile to provide shelter for birds and habitat for invertebrates.

Teamwork! An old log becomes a makeshift turtle ladder.

Swamp milkweed in the bog goes to seed.

Wind dispersal — students help to spread milkweed seeds.

Protein-rich Diet Linked to Bay’s Unhealthy State

To take a bite out of the Chesapeake’s pollution, consumers need to watch what they put in their mouth.

By Karl Blankenship

This is the fourth installment in “Growing Concern,” an occasional series about how issues related to growth threaten Chesapeake restoration efforts.

The Chesapeake may be on a “pollution diet,” but one of the most effective ways to make the Bay healthy might be to put watershed residents on a diet as well, according to a number of scientists.

The Bay, they say, is a reflection of what we eat.

The so-called Chesapeake pollution diet, or Total Maximum Daily Load, is aimed at trimming the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus that enters the estuary, where they spur the growth of huge algae blooms that foul the Bay’s water.

Fertilizers and animal waste running off farms is the largest single source of those nutrients, both to the Bay and many other coastal waters, spurring new, and often controversial attempts, to crack down on agriculture.

Part of the reason the Bay is bloated, though, stems from consumer food choices. In recent decades, the populations of the United States and most other developed countries have moved toward protein-rich diets that require disproportionately large amounts of nitrogen to produce. That inevitably means that more nitrogen leaks into the environment, often making it into waterways.

“People think of the person putting out the nitrogen as being the problem, but [that person is] doing it to meet a demand,” said Richard Kohn, an expert on animal nutrient management with the University of Maryland. “Farmers are producing food because people are eating it.”

In addition, people waste huge amounts of food. More than a third of all food produced in the United States is never eaten: It is simply thrown away, spoils or is otherwise unusable, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

92-pound footprint

The influence food consumption has on nitrogen pollution was highlighted recently by an international team of scientists who developed a calculator that allows individuals to estimate their nitrogen “footprint” – the amount of nitrogen that is released into the environment as a result of decisions they make about eating, driving, electricity use and other factors.

The average American’s nitrogen “footprint” is 92 pounds a year, according to their N-PRINT calculator. A whopping 72 percent of that stems from what they eat.

As a result, altering one’s diet can be the most effective way to for individuals to reduce their footprint.

“This is not that difficult a problem,” said Jim Galloway, Sidman Poole Professor of Environmental Science at the University of Virginia, and one of the leading experts on the nitrogen cycle. He helped develop the calculator with Kohn and others. “If people did two things – ate to the protein guidelines that we’re supposed to and really decreased their food waste – then you are talking about a substantial decrease in the amount of nitrogen needed to come into an agricultural system.”

If someone eating an average U.S. diet instead ate the amount of protein recommended by the Institute of Medicine and the World Health Organization, they would slash the food portion of their nitrogen footprint by about 42 percent, according to the N-PRINT calculator. If they followed those guidelines and also cut food waste by half, they would reduce the food-related portion of their footprint by 50 percent.

Like other individual actions, if adopted on a wide scale, the change could make a big difference. A 2002 paper that Galloway co-authored suggested that if Americans adopted a Swedish-style diet, which has about half the meat consumption of the U.S. diet, fertilizer use would decrease 37 percent. If Americans were persuaded to adopt the Mediterranean diet, which has only about a fifth of the meat of a typical U.S. diet, fertilizer use would decrease by more than half. That would, in effect, return fertilizer use rates roughly to where they were in the 1960s, when the Bay was relatively healthy.

Continue reading

YSOP Workday at Burrville ES

October 27th, 2012

In partnership with Living Classrooms of the National Capital Region, we worked on a reforestation project at Burrville Elementary School. In a planting bed adjacent to the front entrance of the school we created a small representation of a forested area. Volunteers from Youth Services Opportunities Project (YSOP) helped us to clear the area of invasive plants and prepare the site for the installation of native plants. Tackling those invasive plants is always a labor-intensive job — thank you YSOP volunteers!

Removing large invasive plants

Loading composted leaf mulch in to amend the soil for planting