In the midst of Arlington’s efforts to protect local streams, the county last week released an extensive guide debunking what it says are common stream restoration “myths,” touching on everything from ecology to rain gardens.
The following six “myths” were challenged by the county:
- #1: If Arlington County did proper maintenance on the streams, we wouldn’t need to do stream restoration.
- #2: If Arlington County regulated infill development more, the streams wouldn’t be in such bad shape.
- #3: More rain gardens and trees in the watershed could restore the streams without having to reconstruct the stream channel.
- #4: Stream restoration makes stream habitat and stream ecology worse.
- #5: Streams should never overtop their banks. After stream restoration, stream flow should be significantly less.
- #6: The July 8, 2019 storm showed that stream restoration projects cannot handle intense storms or climate change.
When storms occur and water builds in steams, the resulting erosion can cause health issues for water-based wildlife and create infrastructure challenges. In order to prevent erosion, restoration alters the stream’s direction and adds step-pool structures to slow water flow, the county said.
County officials argue that restored stream sections of Donaldson Run, Windy Run, and Four Mile Run kept the channels from eroding during the summer storm. On the other hand, “unrestored sections of Donaldson Run did not fare well during the July 8 storm, with new erosion undermining the fence and trail.”
Arlington’s stream restoration projects aren’t without its critics, especially when it comes to the touchy subject of tree removal in Myth #3.
In an email sent to ARLnow, Suzanne Sundburg, a local environmental activist and member of the Arlington Tree Action Group, argues the opposite — “planting trees… ABSOLUTELY DOES reduce the stormwater runoff,” she wrote.
“These stream restoration projects, as implemented in Arlington County, use heavy equipment that involves significant tree loss in the very riparian areas that are supposed to be protected from tree loss and development,” said Sundburg.
Sundburg argued that development has damaged local streams.
“Maintenance of our streams and their banks isn’t the issue and thus stream ‘restoration’ is not the solution,” she wrote. “The underlying cause of urban stream syndrome is the increasing volume and speed of runoff coming from the watershed. Unless and until the county begins to correct and reverse the increase in impervious surfaces — now covering 45% of the county’s land surface — stream restoration is impossible.”
Local advocacy groups have previously sounded off against tree removal, namely in 2017 when local residents launched a petition against the removal of 70 trees in Donaldson Run.
Currently, the county is in the design phase of its Gulf Branch Stream Restoration project, which is intended to protect the waterway and the trees along its banks.
A Gulf Branch-specific “Myths and Misconceptions” was presented during a November 6 community meeting on the project. In the presentation, officials addressed the effects of the July 8 storm on the stream, noting the “unrestored stream segmented eroded tons of sediment, degrading and stressing habitat downstream.”
(Updated at 10:15 a.m.) The N. Glebe Road bridge over Pimmit Run has been serving drivers, cyclists and pedestrians since 1973 but is due for some major maintenance.
At a public meeting tonight (Tuesday) at Williamsburg Middle School (3600 N. Harrison Street), the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) is scheduled to unveil new plans for the bridge. The improvements are aimed at improving safety and extending the overall life of the bridge.
According to a press release, improvements will include:
- Repairing and resurfacing the bridge deck
- Repairing, waterproofing and providing corrosion protection to abutments and piers
- Repairing, cleaning and painting beams
- Replacing railings along bicycle and pedestrian connection to trails
- Upgrading guardrails and drainage
The bridge feeds into nearby Chain Bridge and sees an average of 12,000 vehicles each day.
The press release says the event will be an open house running from 6:30-8:30 p.m., with displays and information about the project’s design. A presentation will be made at 7 p.m.
The project is estimated to cost $7.5 million and will be financed by the State of Good Repair fund, a state and federal program used to address repairs on bridges considered structurally deficient on the National Bridge Inventory, according to the press release.
Construction is expected to start in fall 2020.
Officials are asking for the public’s feedback on a plan to stem the tide of erosion plaguing one local stream.
Residents can fill out an online survey to share their thoughts on the Gulf Branch Stream Restoration project this summer as the county officials work to prepare designs for protecting the waterway and the trees that call its banks home.
The stream faces problems stemming from the increasing amount water flowing down its channel due to stormwater runoff. This causes the stream to eat away at the banks, which exposes roots and pipes, and carries sediment downstream, according to Watershed Outreach Program Manager Aileen Winquist.
“Restoration projects actually are trying to create a stream channel that’s stable for the long term,” she told ARLnow yesterday (Tuesday.) “So we’re designing a new stream channel that will help the stream water dissipate energy as it flows down, so it’s not doing as much damage.”
Officials are planning to change the way the stream curves and add step-pool structures to slow the water flow. The work will be similar to measures county crews previously took to restore the Donaldson Run stream.
Winquist says reducing erosion along waterways like Donaldson or Gulf Branch is critical because when too much dirt is carved out of the banks it can cause health problems for fish and other water-based wildlife. Sediment siphoned downstream can also cloud the surface of the Chesapeake Bay, preventing sunlight from reaching the watergrasses that shelter crabs, filter water, and feed aquatic creatures.
In the case of flash floods, algae can also bloom which strips the oxygen from the water, killing aquatic life. Chemical pollution can have the same effect — as the Gulf Branch stream experienced in 2012.
Because of this, Virginia requires local jurisdictions to lower sediment pollution levels. Arlington pledged to reduce pollution levels in 2012 by 5% in 2018, and enacted programs and ordinances to reduce the amount of stormwater runoff and pollution.
Stream erosion also causes infrastructure challenges, Winquist said. Because many of the county’s older sewer lines from the 1950s rely on gravity they run under stream valleys. As a consequence, recent floods damaged pipes like the one under Lubber Run, which in turn swallowed the stream.
“When first installed, they were installed several feet down,” Winquist said. “But as as the stream erodes down over time, they become exposed.”
A pipe under Gulf Branch was encased in concrete to prevent damage from exposure — but now the concrete is crumbling.
Winquist noted that in the past, some residents have expressed concerns over trees that need to be felled as part of the process. She said the county replants at least one tree for each one cut and asserted that not performing the work would allow the erosion to continue and would be a greater threat to the local environment.
“It’s not a great condition to leave the stream in,” she said.
The county expects to hold a public meeting in the fall and will continue discussing restoration designs into the new year. Winquest said it will likely be “a couple of years” before construction starts.
Map via Google Maps
A set of traffic lights near Columbia Pike isn’t working for bicycles, officials say.
The Department of Environmental Services (DES) confirmed that traffic signal at the intersection of S. Walter Reed Drive and 11th Street S. is not detecting bicycles.
DES crews discovered this week that an underground conduit collapsed, effectively disabling the sensors that detect bicycles waiting to cross Walter Reed Drive and trigger a green light.
“There’s currently no bike lane detection because we weren’t able to get the cable from the controller to this side of the intersection due to the collapsed conduit,” DES spokesman Eric Balliet tells ARLnow.
“Staff are working on how to address the issue, but we don’t have an estimate at this time for when a fix can be implemented,” he said.
In the meantime, the department reconfigured the intersection to give a green light to the contraflow bike lane on 11th Street during each light cycle. In a contraflow bike lane, bicyclists ride against the flow of traffic.
The department found the problem after cyclists — including Arlington County official Henry Dunbar — noted on social media earlier this month that some intersections hadn’t turned green for them.
Hi Henry – We’ll check on the Walter Reed/11th St S contraflow bike lane detection. Added this to the request list. Here's the request form for anyone interested: https://t.co/0IoMekf3WM "Traffic Signals">"Signal Maintenance."
— Arlington Department of Environmental Services (@ArlingtonDES) June 6, 2019
Balliet said crews inspected N. Veitch Street and Lee Highway on Wednesday after the online complaints and found no issues.
No other intersections have known issues either, but Bailliet said in an emailed statement that some intersections use a new vehicle detection technology and it can be finicky:
The newer detection cameras the County uses for vehicular detection can also detect bicycles, but the system requires the bicycle to approach the intersection in a vehicular or bicycle lane in order to be detected. If the bicycle doesn’t adhere to the stop bar area or rides in an atypical pattern, the cameras will likely not detect the bicycle as the zones are set up with the stop bar as a reference and can only be triggered from travel in a single general direction.
He added that cameras will also fail to detect bicycles on sidewalks and riders need to continue pushing walk buttons to cross safety.
DES asks travelers to report intersection problems to the county’s online system so crews can investigate.
Images via Google Maps
Work Begins to Replace Collapsed Pipe — A collapsed 18-inch stormwater pipe is being replaced on Arlington Ridge. The work is necessitating a detour for Arlington Ridge Road traffic between 23rd Street and S. Glebe Road. The stretch has been the site of numerous water main issues over the past few years. [Twitter]
Big Turnout for Caps Sendoff — Thousands of fans reportedly flocked to the Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Ballston on Saturday to give the Caps a Stanley Cup sendoff as they traveled to Las Vegas for Game 1 of the finals. [WUSA 9]
Manager Warns Against Additional Debt — “[Don’t] do it. That’s Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz’s advice to County Board members, urging them to resist any temptation to disregard the government’s self-imposed, and for the most part sacrosanct, debt guidelines. The guidelines, long in place to help the county government retain AAA bond ratings, call for the cost of servicing municipal debt to remain less than 10 percent of the total overall county-government budget in any given year.” [InsideNova]
ACFD Lends a Hand in Ellicott City — Arlington County Fire Department units are helping out the flood recovery efforts in Ellicott City, Md. The catastrophic flooding in Ellicott City over the weekend prompted a regional disaster aid response. [Twitter]
DJO Wins State Softball Crown — The Bishop O’Connell Knights girls high school softball team won the Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association Division I tournament last week, capturing the state championship title for the seventh year in a row. [InsideNova]
Photo courtesy @thelastfc
The gym will reopen on March 20, according to an Arlington Dept. of Parks and Recreation spokesperson, adding that there wasn’t much programming this week that is affected by the closure.
Everything else at the community center, including the fitness room, will remain open.
While the repairs themselves are minor, the gym floor — which was replaced this fall — has to be “cured,” according to the spokesperson, and that takes several days to dry. The maintenance is a proactive measure, and there wasn’t any noticeable problem or lack of smoothness before the maintenance began.
Photo via Arlington County.
UPDATE: The sewage line leak into Donaldson Run was stopped overnight with a bypass installation. Pipe repairs continue. Photo shows the remote location of the leak, adjacent to Zachary Taylor Park. pic.twitter.com/OcLdVOcjCz
— Arlington DES (@ArlingtonDES) November 14, 2017
Workers from the county’s Department of Environmental Services stopped a sewage leak into the Donaldson Run stream overnight.
According to a tweet from DES, crews installed a bypass overnight into a sewage pipe, which broke due to its age, damage from tree roots and the recent cold temperatures.
Repairs to the pipe, which is in a remote location next to Zachary Taylor Park (2900 Military Road), are ongoing.
A DES spokesman said that the remote location made the leak hard to find, but that staff had been aware since last weekend.
“[S]taff did log the leak report over the weekend and the search began soon thereafter,” the spokesman said. “It just took a while for crews to find the leak because of the remote location — which you can see on the tweet photo.”
The spokesman reiterated that the “discharge that entered Donaldson Run will be diminished by natural flushing of the stream over time.”
The county’s sewage plant is set for repairs after the Arlington County Board approved a five-year contract at its meeting on Saturday.
The Water Pollution Control Plant’s concrete tanks at 3402 S. Glebe Road, near the Aurora Highlands and Arlington Ridge neighborhoods, are struggling with structural deterioration. They will be repaired with grouting, coating, crack injection, or by other means by an on-call contractor during the five-year contract.
The plant has 60 concrete sewage channels and tanks that help treat the county’s wastewater, and — despite recent upgrades — some of the tanks are over 65 years old.
The contract has a set cost of $1.25 million, with an additional $125,000 set aside as a contingency. In recommending the plan, county staff said scheduling repairs ahead of time rather than doing them on an emergency basis will reduce costs and risk to construction workers.
The County Board approved the contract as part of its consent agenda at its meeting Saturday (July 15).
Pio Pio, a Peruvian charcoal rotisserie chicken restaurant at 3300 Wilson Blvd, is “closed for maintenance,” according to a sign in the window.
The restaurant, located roughly between the Clarendon and Virginia Square Metro stations, was also closed yesterday, though the sign says the closure is “today afternoon.”
No maintenance could be seen being done inside the restaurant this afternoon. An employee who answered the phone at Pio Pio’s Wheaton, Maryland location said there’s a problem with the roof that needs to be fixed by the landlord before the Arlington location can reopen.
A senior couple who lives in Arlington’s Glencarlyn neighborhood received free home repairs today thanks to a group of volunteers.
More than 30 volunteers from the local Rebuilding Together organization and Lowe’s worked throughout the day today to fix up the couple’s home inside and out. The couple was for the volunteer work based on need.
“We bring volunteers to people’s homes to make repairs,” said Patti Klein, executive director of Rebuilding Together Arlington/Fairfax/Falls Church. “They tend to be lower income homeowners that are seniors, people with disabilities, veterans and families with children.”
The couple was having a very hard time getting up and down their front stairs, according to Klein. The husband also had heart surgery a few months ago.
The repairs included the installation of railings for both sides of the front steps, the installation of 16 storm windows, replacement of an A/C unit, and the installation of a carbon monoxide detector, among many others.
Rebuilding Together Arlington/Fairfax/Falls Church is one of 150 affiliates across the nation. Nationally, the organization does 10,000 projects a year. The local affiliate does 70 projects a year. Lowe’s has been a national partner since 2007 and donated $15,000 for today’s repairs.
“We got a great group of people here and we are going to do a lot of great stuff,” said Tony Reyna, manager of a Lowe‘s store in Fairfax.
Arlington County plans to make permanent repairs to a sinkhole on Williamsburg Blvd in the coming weeks.
The sinkhole first appeared in February due to a water main break which created a small geyser near the corner of Williamsburg Blvd and Sycamore Street.
The temporary repairs, now several months old, allowed the road to reopen but are not a permanent solution. A large indentation in the road is “still there and getting worse,” with some cars having to swerve onto the median to avoid the hazard, according to resident Joe Keeley.
Permanent patching is scheduled for the “trouble spot” sometime within the next two weeks, according to Department of Environmental Services spokeswoman Jessica Baxter.
Baxter said that the repairs in February were indeed temporary, and that final repairs had not taken place yet partially because hot mix asphalt — the material needed for permanent repairs — is not typically available in the winter months.
Instead, Baxter said that road crews used cold mix asphalt to perform temporary repairs and planned to return for final repairs when the weather warmed up.
In this case, Baxter said the road requires a full-depth repair, which involves installing a new sub-base layer of gravel and replacing both the base and top base layers of the road. Repairs are expected to cost approximately $3,500.