Federal Funds Approved to Help Restore Four Mile Run

by ARLnow.com June 14, 2011 at 10:15 am 3,942 69 Comments

Over the weekend the County Board accepted a $485,000 federal grant to help restore wetlands and the stream bank along Four Mile Run.

The funds will allow Arlington and Alexandria to create new wetland areas near the stream, thus adding needed habitat, enhancing aesthetics and improving water quality.

“This federal grant will help us fund the crucial first phase of the comprehensive restoration of Four Mile Run,” Arlington County Board Chairman Christopher Zimmerman said in a statement. “Restoration of the wetland and stream banks in tidal Four Mile Run, which we expect to begin work on next year, is central to the effort to return the stream to a more natural, better functioning waterway that will serve people from across the region.

Arlington’s estimated share of the larger Four Mile Run Tidal Restoration Project is $3.7 million, including federal funds.

“The Four Mile Run watershed encompasses approximately two-thirds of Arlington County and forms the southern border with the City of Alexandria, creating a shared waterfront resource,” the county said in a press release. “The tidal restoration project is the central element of a comprehensive effort by the two communities, with the help of the federal government, to restore the lower section Four Mile Run, which was channelized by the Army Corps of Engineers in the 1970s.”

  • MC 703

    This is tremendous. I often fish the shore here and am dismayed at the poor water quality and beer cans and chip bags everywhere. Not sure why people are so careless.

    Plus from reading the pamphlet it sounds like the result will be a more natural stream bed which = better urban fishing.

  • YAY. Can’t wait to see how it looks. Very happy to hear about it. LOVE walking by the water under those great trees.

  • TooEasy

    Just another sticky Beaver Pond

  • ECO

    If we had just not screwed up the watershed in the first place, we wouldn’t have wasted all that money (and lowered property values) by channelizing the lower end, and then have to spend more money to fix it. Environmentalism saves taxpayers money.

    • PhilL

      The channelizing solved the problem of repetitive massive flooding down there. That area could not have developed as it did without it.

      I’m not sure what these new plans involve, but I would be surprised if they are undoing the flood control measures.

      • ECO

        Messing up the watershed is what caused the massive flooding in the first place, that’s the point. Replacing trees and marshes with pavement and roofs causes water to flow too fast into the stream.

        This restoration will ease the flooding a little by slowing the flow of water into 4MR upstream.

        The downstream area was already developed, then the upstream area was developed, causing huge floods downstream in the already-developed areas, causing in turn the need for channelizing. Not the best way to go about things, but hindsight is 20/20.

        • PhilL

          Messing with the watershed is necessary when you quadruple your population in a 60 year time frame. You can’t fit over 200,000 people in Arlington and not have a bunch of roofs and pavement.

          • ECO

            You can put the roofs and pavement in without having as big an impact by leaving buffers and wetlands in place – in other words, the kind of things that will be put back by the restoration. I’m not saying we should have not developed it at all or that flooding won’t still be a problem, just that we could have developed smarter and avoided a massive, expensive, ugly channelizing project. It’s not an either-or proposition.

          • PhilL

            All this new work sounds like it is focused on the very lowest reaches of the stream. Just the tidal area.

            I don’t think what they are putting back is what you are talking about with the upstream buffers where most of the development has occurred.

          • ECO

            I don’t know the details, but I know there have been various restoration efforts up and down the stream, like tree plantings and establishment of buffers. Those aren’t very visible, but they add up. But yes, this particular grant seems to be focused on the lower part, which needs alot of help.

          • Thes

            Well, you could if you concentrated the population into a tiny number of very tall buildings instead of having 70,000 single-family homes each one with 2000 square feet of impervious surface and another 5000 square feet of lawn. But that’s not what we started doing until about 1975.

          • PhilL

            I guess you have to blame Arlington’s planners then.

          • Thes

            The ones before 1975, you mean?

          • PhilL

            Yeah, going back to the 40’s when the population started to rapidly increase. Shame on them for not putting everyone in tall buildings and saving the rest of Arlington as the nations most valuable stream buffer. Blame the one’s in the 50’s & 60’s too.

            I mean, you’re no professional planner, and even you can figure this out.

          • Thes

            Whether that tradeoff was blameworthy or praiseworthy depends on one’s values, doesn’t it? Professional planners often don’t share the values of the people in the communities they plan.

          • PhilL

            There was an implication in your initial statement that things were not done correctly until 1975. That seemed to tip what your values are. But there’s plenty of room to hedge in there, too.

          • Thes

            Sorry for any confusion. I wasn’t meaning to express my values, but merely to explain why your statement:

            “Messing with the watershed is necessary when you quadruple your population in a 60 year time frame. You can’t fit over 200,000 people in Arlington and not have a bunch of roofs and pavement.”

            was factually wrong. But if you’re not a professional planner, it’s an understandable mistake.

          • PhilL

            Well see, now I’m just going to come right out and ask you: Do you think the planners pre-1975 were wrong to allow so much SFH development?

            You can use this chance to clear up the confusion.

          • Westover

            Sounds like democracy is dead when the planners enter the picture.

          • doodly

            Of course flooding is natural.

            But human activity makes it worse.

          • Wrong wrong wrong

            Thes, your facts are 100% wrong. Most houses built pre WWII had maybe 1500 sq ft of TOTAL interior living space–usually on more than one floor. So total ground footprint of an average Arlington house built back then would probably be around 1000 sq ft or less.

            And you mentioned huge backyards in passing. Huge backyards absorb rainwater. The mixed-use development you planners love so much is responsible for covering over a lot of that very space in concrete.

            (To be fair, McMansions are just as much to blame.)

          • Thes

            100% wrong? Not even, say, 50% wrong? That’s a pretty strong statement, there buster…

            Were you including the driveways in your calculation of impervious surface? Because I was. I was probably underestimating the total because I should have accounted for the new residential access roads as well.

            The factual question is not whether dense construction creates impervious surface (clearly it does), but how much impervious land area it creates *per person*. Suburban homes create much more impervious surface per person because fewer people share each roof, driveway, sidewalk and street.

          • Wrong wrong wrong

            Thes: Rainwater does not care about “per person.” If so much water falls over a given area of land, and that land has so much imprevious surface, the result is flooding. If you cover 90% of a given square mile in multistory TOD, you may well have 10,000 people living where 2,000 might live in SFHs. But the SFHs’ backyards will absorb more rainwater.

            Driveways are not that large. And in Arlington, many homes don’t even have them–or may have the twin-strip style. But even a long driveway is a fraction of the size of the backyard that is usually part of the same property.

          • ECO

            The best development for watersheds depends on alot of factors.

            Your point about back yards is good, though I’ll add that trees and marshes beat grass hands down. And lawns bring fertilizer runoff.

          • ECO

            “Per person” certainly does matter, because every person in a low-impact development is a person who isn’t in a higher-impact one. In other words, you can fit alot more people into a condo with a small footprint than if you built suburban sprawl development to accommodate them. The net effect is less impervious surface per person, and therefore less impervious surface.

          • charlie

            once again THES is attacking someone for being “wrong” yet cannot swallow when someone suggests that they THES is “wrong”.

            The planners plan the community based on the direction given to them by the approved plans. Although THES may believe that they were “wrong” they in fact were right.

            No one had any idea Arlington would bloom as quickly and prettily as it has.

          • Stu Pendus

            When I was a kid most of the driveways in Arlington were crushed Pennsylvania Bluestone, and caused no runoff.

          • Westover

            Even when folks had the crushed stone driveways, they had nice large patios outback.

          • Westover

            Frankly, our areas’ practically impervious natural clay soil probably contributes a lot to the run off conditions.

          • doodly

            No, we have (or had) plenty of nice topsoil, vegetation and wetlands that kept streams healthy and limited flooding.

          • Westover

            The top soil is not particularly deep here, and never has been. Go down just a few inches and you hit clay. This has resulted in flooding in the area since before George Washington’s family setup up camp. There are things that can be done, and things that can’t. Nature is going to give us the occasional massive flood, and the occasional long term drought regardless. Minimize the impact you have, but don’t beat yourself and others up over it either.

          • Loocy

            Nice large patios? Not in the 1950s, at least in my north Arlington neighborhood. Our back door opened on to a set of small cement stairs, and then nothing but dirt, grass and weeds for the kids to play in, as well as a clothesline. Sweet.

        • Westover

          America has about twice the number of trees standing today as she did in 1898>

          • doodly

            So? What matters is where those trees are located. We need more in between urban areas and streams and rivers that are affected by them. A tree in Wyoming doesn’t keep 4MR clean.

          • Westover

            We have more trees in DC than we did in 1865 too.

          • mehoo


          • Westover

            Way Way back, ECO said “Replacing trees and marshes with pavement and roofs causes water to flow too fast into the stream”. Fact is we have replaced the trees at about a 2 to 1 ratio. Yes, marshes were filled in, but trees grow today where there was barren slope 100+ years ago. Most of Arlington was open farm land where today we have trees shadeing homes and populating what was once rolling pastures in places like Bluemont and Arlington Ridge.

          • doodly


            You have some cute claims about trees, but they don’t mean much.

            Trees aren’t the only factor in flooding. It’s where the trees are, and whether there is soil vs. parking lots in place of them, and whether there are wetlands, ponds, etc. that hold back water. Just throwing out random stats about trees doesn’t say much.

          • Josh S

            A patently absurd claim. What, we’re getting all our food from overseas these days? Farms still exist in their plentitude around the nation as they did in 1898. However, cities and other developed areas have multiplied. Old growth forests have been cut down. Mines have been dug and destroyed acres and acres of mountaintops, etc. Etc. Etc.

            In any case, what’s with the choice of 1898? What’s that got to do with anything? Why not compare tree coverage to 1698? Didn’t we all learn in school that a squirrel could have traveled from the Atlantic to the Mississippi and never touched the ground back in colonial times?

            But really, even if we do somehow have more trees now than in 1898, I think any argument that attempts to say that we have more trees now than we did in some past time is just a red herring. Because as others have pointed out, it matters WHERE the trees are. No trees near a stream or river will generally lead to that stream or river being less healthy than it would be with trees nearby. So while someone might pat themselves on the back for having two or three trees on their property, that won’t necessarily help water quality if the property isn’t close to the stream / river.

          • ECO

            Thank you for noting that the quality of trees matters too. Old growth forests, which are almost gone, have a higher ecological value than young trees.

            In any event, throwing around platitudes like “we have more trees now” doesn’t change the fact that development has made flooding in Arlington more severe and frequent.

    • Me too!

      Captain Obvious……

  • cj

    ECO is correct in principle. However, we have to deal with the stream as it is. The 1970s channelization was done to address flooding problems. With time and local citizen initiatives, Arlington and Alexandria — with the Corps as a partner — have found ways to restore more natural areas and functions to the lower reaches of Four Mile Run while retaining its flood control capacities. This is a great project with many environmental, recreational and, yes, economic benefits.

    • PhilL

      Here’s a great picture Four Mile Run before flood control. For reference, the field in the middle is at Cora Kelly ES, where the Alexandria Dukes would later plan minor league ball in the late 70’s.


      • Great shot. Is that taken from essentially right over the Birchmere?

        • PhilL

          Pretty much. The Potomac is way at the top of the photo.

      • Arlwhenever

        I loved the Dukes. For under $2.00 you could get a ticket, a hot dog and a Coke and see future Pittsburgh Pirates play great ball.

      • jan

        Great photo for historical context. Thanks

      • Loocy

        Great photo! Thanks for the link! The next one in the set is also impressive — shows the Walter Reed Drive overpass after hurricane Agnes passed through.

    • ECO

      Yep, I’m just saying we should learn from the experience next time.

      The Army Corps is busy tearing down it’s expensive flood control projects all over the country to replace them with the same wetlands and buffers that were there before. If we just let nature do its thing, we could have free flood control instead of spending billions on it.

  • Bender

    Meanwhile, can someone please direct me to any environmental impact study that has been done for the “community center” that the County is building about 50 feet from the edge of Four Mile Run, an area that has a number of underground springs that impact on the stream?

    • BoredHouseWife

      That used to be a safeway.

  • ArlingtonCountyTaxpayer

    but we also spent a ton of money on Donaldson Run @ Zachary Taylor Park and the first major storm wiped it all OUT. so calming a “run” isn’t any good if upstream is still pushing too much water down.

    “Thes” is right that we would be better off with a few big high rises instead of all the dumb townhouses we got.

  • Hmm

    What are they planning to do that will “create new wetland areas near the stream”? Not sure I understand what actions are being funded.

  • @Eco:

    ” ‘Per person’ certainly does matter, because every person in a low-impact development is a person who isn’t in a higher-impact one.”

    You’re presuming that density = low impact. I disagree. I think it’s much better to leave some green space (aka yards) around dwellings than to build on all that space.

    You’re saying that all those folks living in condos might have lived in sprawlville–but for all its problems, sprawlville at least does leave some land intact instead of paving over it. (That said, I HATE the sameness, cheapness, and treelessness of all new housing developments.)

    But back the point of the article we’re all commenting on: We’re talking about flooding only. For flood prevention, it’s much better to have less density and to leave plenty of pervious surface (unpaved land).

    I agree we should leave plenty of marsh buffers, etc. But it’s not an either/or proposition.

    BTW, you don’t have to fertilize a lawn. II never use any chemicals on ours, and it looks great.

    • ECO

      Like I noted, it depends. I agree that it’s more complicated than density=low impact.

      Overall, I think the land covered by the roads, driveways and roofs in sprawl development, not to mention the runoff from fertilizer, usually has a worst impact than a typical higher-density development, on a per person basis.

      • Thes

        This is exactly right. We have neither infinite land nor infinite people. If you want to preserve nature, you can have it so the people living in the smallest possible area. However, if you have the people spread out so each one has her own house and driveway, you will have less nature left.

        So it is a choice — should we let the people spread out, or should we let nature spread out?

        • Stu Pendus

          It seems Arlington is trying to have it both ways. They are building dense development, and approving 2 McMansions on plots where just 1 house stood before.

          • Arlwhenever

            If Arlington wasn’t ruled by such a bunch of self-serving hypocrites it would require storm water retention for new single family homes, and major rehabs to includes rain/rock gardens, rain barrels, and/or retention/filtering facilities. The county would also enforce laws that prohibit sump pump discharges into storm sewer facilities. And all high density projects, in addition to being required to provided for onsite storm water retention, would be assessed a per unit/per foot fee to facilitate off site protection/retention to cover an allocable portion of off site infrastructure, such as road systems serving the facilties. Over time Arlington County could put a signficiat dent into the runoff, but it chooses not to; instead the ACDC power structure has Jim Moran earmark Federal funds to for projects that do nothing to prevent destructive runoff; these projects will add to the debt passed on to our children and grandchildren.

          • doodly


            Is the county allowed by the state to require such things though?

          • YES!

            Case in point: Remember those two old mansions on Carlin Springs just east of George Mason? One was a beautiful old fieldstone house. The other was a wooden farmhouse from the 1920s. They had a huge shared backyard that you could see on Bing maps, with big, beautiful trees.

            They’ve both been torn down–and all the mature trees ripped out of the ground–to be replaced by 10 or 12 of the standard cheap-ass siding/fake-stone McMansions–each of which will surely have just a tiny yard, if any.

            Thanks, County government, for approving that one.

          • Bluemontsince1961


            I remember both of those houses on Carlin Springs, they were beautiful and had character. I hadn’t been by there in a while and drove by the other day when I was coming home from Harris Teeter and saw they were gone and the same ole same ole McMansions were going up. Seems that is the “Arlington Way” these days. At North 15th and George Mason (left side of 15th & Mason going north toward VA Hospital Center) there was another great older home with character that fit in with the neighbor hood that was torn down with yet another monstrosity going up. Same thing at the south corner of Wilson Blvd and N. Harrison St. I cannot understand why these “developers” don’t keep the old houses, but gut and renovate them on the inside. Someone down the street from me bought an older house, and bless them, they had the interior gutted and renovated and it looks great and fits in with the neighborhood.

          • Westover

            Have you priced Hardy Planking? That stuff is anything but “cheap-ass”.

          • Welll…

            OK, that’s true. But it looks cheap. These McMansions are all pricey as hell, but to my eyes they look like cheaply built garbage. Even the stonework somehow looks fake, though I can’t figure out why.

            Also, it might not always be hardyplank–could just be wood or vinyl.

          • doodly

            A house needs a few decades to age before it looks right.

          • doodly

            Again, did the county approve that, or did the developer do it “by right” meaning the county didn’t have the power to stop them?

            Blame the state, not the county, for not doing enough to deal with development. The state has that power, while local government power is limited.

          • doodly

            Building 2 houses where 1 house stood before is also an increase in density though.

          • Josh S

            That’s not having it both ways. That’s attempting to increase density within the context of the entire region. If you don’t allow more density closer in to the core, the same growth will just happen farther out, with an even greater increase in impervious surfaces, more reliance on car-centric development, need to build new infrastructure rather than relying on existing infrastructure, etc.

    • ECO

      P.S. Agree completely on the fertilizer, but the problem is that most people don’t get that and dump tons of fertilizer on their lawns.

  • chris

    One planning course in college and everyone is an Urban Planner!


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