With RiverSmart Homes You Can Help the Anacostia

A Benning Ridge home’s rain barrel. Photo: Bill Matuszeski

We all know that part of the pollution in our river, the Anacostia, comes from runoff and overflow of storm water and that all homeowners are contributors. But what we don’t all know is that an effective and active program pays homeowners a large part of the cost of reducing or eliminating the pollutants and the volume of the runoff from their property, and getting other benefits in return.

Let’s take a look at what RiverSmart Homes can offer. It is a program of the DC Department of Energy & Environment (DOEE) carried out under contract with the nonprofit Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay.

The DOEE and the alliance recently gave a tour of RiverSmart projects in the Benning Ridge neighborhood of Anacostia, bordered by C and D streets SE and Texas Avenue. Project representatives and enthusiastic homeowners shared their experiences with the program. The owners have beautified their properties, are saving on utility bills and have improved on the use of rainwater and drainage controls. The benefits to the District and the Anacostia are improved water quality, reduced levels of herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers, and more stable soils to prevent erosion.

How is this funded, and how much of it does the homeowner pay? In most cases, a homeowner’s co-payment covers the costs that are providing clear benefits for them. For example, rain barrels carry a one-time charge of $50-70. They capture roof runoff and make it available for watering plants, washing the car or whatever, thus saving on the bill from DC Water. The homeowner also pays $100 per 50 square feet of rain gardens or 120 square feet of bayscaping. There is no owner charge for shade trees, and only $10 per square foot for replacement of impermeable surfaces with permeable pavers, and $5 per square foot to replace them with vegetation.

Rain garden, permeable pavers and a rain barrel. Photo: Bill Matuszeski

The visible results are beautiful yards everywhere you look! Less immediately visible results are the benefits to our river and the streams leading into it, paid for in part by generous homeowners who have dedicated funds and hard work to the Anacostia.

Some of the most enthusiastic expressions for progress came from staff of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay who were on the tour. Projects Associate Amanda Bland pointed out, “After so many ‘virtual’ events over the past year, it is wonderful to be with residents in their own community talking about solutions to stormwater issues.”

Her colleague Carly Starobin added, “I like working in the Anacostia – people here have a strong connection to the river.”

So, what are the next steps to creating a RiverSmart Home on your property?

First, make an application online at www.doee.dc.gov/get-riversmart or by phone to the DOEE at 202-535-2600. After you submit the completed application, you will join the waitlist for a site audit. The audit examines ground slope, roof size, paved areas, existing gardens, shade and the like as the basis for deciding which projects are most appropriate for the property. The wait-time for the audit averages two to four months, and you must be present at the audit, which usually takes about a half hour.

Front garden partnership with a rain barrel. Photo: Bill Matuszeski

You will receive the auditor’s report with recommendations for features and projects on your property. You then tell DOEE what features you wish to have installed. The alliance or the contractor will coordinate the installation.

The timeline for co-payments will vary by project and completion time. After completion, your primary duty is to enjoy and maintain the features consistent with information provided at the time of installation and also available online at www.riversmarthomes.com.

Everybody wins with RiverSmart Homes, especially the Anacostia!

Bill Matuszeski is a member of the Mayor’s Leadership Council for a Cleaner Anacostia River and the retired director of the Chesapeake Bay Program. He also serves on the board of the Friends of the National Arboretum and on citizen advisory committees for the Chesapeake and the Anacostia rivers.