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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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.

Carlin Springs ES: Creating a Turtle Hibernaculum (Part 1)

October 26th, 2012

How the turtle project began…

Lands and Waters began working with Carlin Springs Elementary School last spring when we were asked to host an after-school program. Upon beginning our work to create a bog wetland habitat, we discovered…


Numerous Eastern Box Turtles were inhabiting the courtyard that was to be the site of our bog creation project. We had heard legends of the duckling eating bullfrogs, but these little scaly gems had crawled under our radar. We wondered how they were surviving in habitat that supplied so few food resources for them. Thus, we had a shift in focus to accommodate this unique teaching opportunity and to provide a better habitat for these magnificent little creatures.

Eastern box turtle populations are severely threatened, mostly due to habitat destruction and roadway casualties. We encourage citizens to create turtle-friendly habitat in their backyards and to rescue turtles when you see them trying to cross the road. They get their name because they are the only turtle that can completely “box” themselves in when threatened by predators. Thus, this defense mechanism may be great against foxes and raccoons, it is no match for those lumbering piles of steel and rubber that take us to the grocery store. So when you see a turtle crossing the road, be a good samaritan and kindly give her or him a lift safely to the other side — just make sure it is in the direction they were already heading!

Back to Carlin Springs — the turtles were not at all shy about accepting our offerings of fruits and vegetables.

We began enhancing the courtyard and creating a better habitat for eastern box turtles. We brought in some rich compost and leaf litter to amend the soil. Also large logs rescued from a fallen snag to decompose and provide habitat for insects, fungus, and other yummy turtle snacks.

Creating a Turtle Hibernaculum

A few large hollowed out logs are brought into the courtyard to provide a protective sanctuary for the turtles during the coming chilly winter months.

Members of the Carlin Springs Nature Club work in their courtyard to prepare the turtle hibernaculum. By combining leaf compost and shredded leaf litter students create rich soil that will retain moisture, conditions that are preferred by eastern box turtles. The mixture is then stuffed into the decomposing logs, which will also provide habitat for insects.

Although it is about the time for eastern box turtles in our area to begin nestling down for the winter, we still find a few of them wandering around the courtyard bog and chomping on selections from the platters of shredded vegetables and fruits we offer them. We often call it hibernation, that’s technically a process for mammal. Turtles and other reptiles “brumate,” when due to cold temperatures, the body metabolism slows down to use less energy — they are still awake during this time but become very sluggish.

However, an understandably grumpy turtle was very unhappy that we woke him! We made sure to tuck him into some rich soil and cover him with leaf litter so that he could quickly burrow himself back into the earth.

[   Go to Carlin Springs ES: Creating a Turtle Hibernaculum (Part 2)   ]

Anacostia Watershed Walk (Day 2)

October 25th, 2012

The second day of our “Follow the Water” program at Kimball Elementary School, funded by the Chesapeake Bay Trust and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This time Ms. Williams’ 5th grade class learned about their local watershed as they followed a stream to the Anacostia River.

And a hearty thank you to our volunteer leaders — Michelle, Bill, Kelly, Vessie and Nick!

Also, many thanks to the local Yes! Organic Market for donating lunches for our volunteer leaders!

Native Planting at Tyler ES with Living Classrooms

October 24th, 2012

In partnership with Living Classroom of the National Capital Region, Jeanette and Kris work to create a sponge garden at Tyler Elementary School. In an area receiving runoff from an asphalted playground, a stormwater snake is installed near a drain to help infiltrate and filter water. Working with the second graders, the area was mulched and planted with grey sedge. There is still much work to do and many plants to be installed, but we are off to a great start!

Anacostia Watershed Walk (Day 1)

October 23rd, 2012

The first day of our newly developed “Follow the Water” program, where students of Ephraim Kimball Elementary School learn about the ecological health and conservation issues associated with their local watershed as they follow a nearby stream to the Anacostia River. This educational program was funded by a grant from the Chesapeake Bay Trust and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. On day one, Ms. Brummell’s 5th grade class was the first to make the journey.

Students listen to Sean as he gives a short presentation summarizing watershed basics and the watershed address of Kimball students.

Identifying beautiful — yet problematic — non-native, invasive plants. A student holds a specimen of porcelain berry (Ampelopsis brevipedunculata), originally from Asia. This aggressive plant climbs over vegetation, strangling out native plants and monopolizing habitat.

Where does city rain go? Storm drains line the streets along our walk, the litter, road pollution and illegal dumping that flows into them leads straight to the Anacostia River. Students ask why they are not covered to prevent trash from going in, but the unfortunate choice is pollution in the river or flooding.

Exploring a rain garden

Joyous faces as onlookers watch their fellow students burn some energy and run down a hill slope.

An unloved stream

Yes! Organic Market generously donated lunches for our volunteer leaders. Thank you, Yes!

Thank you! And a hearty thanks to our volunteer leaders — Michelle, Cindy, Vessie, and Jose! We could not have done it without you.

Kimball ES: Stormwater Campus Tour and Water Quality Testing

As part of their “Follow the Water” program stormwater educational program, Ms. Burmell and Ms. William’s 5th grade classes learn how to monitor water quality.

Students set up a kick net to find macroinvertebrates, which are studied to measure the health of streams.

Students sort through the leaf litter and detritus on their nets to find macroinvertebrates. Once they are gathered and identified, they are returned to the stream.

Water testing for temperature, turbidity, oxygen, sediment, nitrate and phosphate

Bullfrog tadpole from Fort Dupont stream in the Anacostia watershed

Thanks to the Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District for their assistance!

Thank you to the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund, whose generous support made this program possible!