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Outdoors goes underground

Living in an urban and suburban area like Northern Virginia where there are lots of rivers and streams, it is essential to consider what we are doing with our environment. In the past, when people first arrived in the wilderness, when we wanted to improve things for our creature comfort we just did what we wanted to do. We deforested, for instance. A pioneer could clear about 3 acres a year to create fields for crop production. As the population increased, families got larger, and needed more fields. Our ancestral grandmothers weren’t just giving birth to families, they were creating a workforce to clear the land.

Ballston Pond improvements are underway
Ballston Pond improvements are underway
James George
No dumping
Arlington County Virginia

Agriculture gave way to industry, and that led to more clearing and development. L’Enfant had a great idea for Washington DC. He envisioned water taxis like they have in Las Colinas (Irving, Texas) suburb of Dallas. That idea failed in both places.

Now, we just pave over what were natural runs, streams, rivers, marshes, ponds, etc. We turn watersheds into sewers. We make distinctions between storm sewers and our waste disposal but one can hardly tell the difference. Look at Ballston Pond as an example. About 12 years ago, beavers were still living in Ballston Pond that is fed by a spring that feeds Lubber Run. George Washington probably rode his horse around the area that still includes some wild cherry trees.

Now and then, a deer or two show up in the pond area that is enclosed by a chain link fence. A doe gave birth to a fawn and nurtured the fawn for awhile before they jumped the fence and were struck by cars on I-66. The same fate happened to a large snapping turtle that attempted to cross the bridge one year and was struck by a car. Foxes still enjoy the area, but the beavers died off because they ate all of the trees around the pond. For awhile, they became condo dwellers living in the storm sewer. One could see them popping up in area neighborhoods, taking down trees before workers installed screens to prevent their wandering.

The big deal now is that Arlington County is in the process of installing a new bottom in the Ballston Pond as the old one must have been leaking. The pond is so filled with plastic that some estimate that there are tons of it to be removed. You can see Fisher Price toys and water bottles among containers that once held oil and other harsh chemicals. All of that stuff came from citizens of Arlington who live along streets and runs who leave stuff out in their yards or along the curb that ends up in the pond before sliding out to the Chesapeake watershed.

I once stood on the edge of the Potomac River near Teddy Roosevelt Island in Rosslyn when I heard a loud gurgling sound. The sun was shining, but out of nowhere came a gush of dirty liquid and a batch of plastic headed directly into the river. A raft of debris flowed with the current headed southward to the sea.

“Ballston Pond

It Is Time to Mark Some Storm Drains!

Posted: 15 May 2014 08:55 AM PDT

Arlington has a variety of watershed-specific markers so you know where the water goes!
Is Sherlock shad on your storm drain? With more than 10,000 storm drains in Arlington, there are lots of opportunities to remind residents that storm drains are a direct path to our streams and the Potomac River! Each year the County provides free storm drain marking supplies (glue and markers) to scout groups, students and interested adults. Volunteers walk their neighborhood and glue markers were needed, on their own schedule. Once they have completed a section of streets, they report their activities back to the County. Storm drain marking requires warm, dry weather in order for the glue to work properly.
The storm drain marking website provides more detail about the marking process. Contact Jen McDonnell at or 703-228-3042 if you wish to get involved!

2013 Was a Great Year for Storm Drain Marking

Forty-seven volunteers participated in the 2013 storm drain marking effort, racking up more than 200 volunteer hours! Volunteers walked more than 81 miles of Arlington streets, marking roughly 1,200 storm drains along the way. For comparison in 2012, 13 miles were walked by volunteers. Thank you to all the volunteers that helped us have such a productive marking season!

The Stormwater Connection

Arlington’s streams receive all of the stormwater that flows down the storm drains. Storm drain markers are a reminder to residents that rain, and only rain, should go down the storm drain. Concrete wash, sand, paint, dirt, leaves, grass clippings, Halloween pumpkins and anything else you can think of do not belong in the storm drain.”

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