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Volunteers With Surfrider Foundation Transform Land Into Rain Garden

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Volunteers with the D.C. Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation to transform a swath of land slated for office buildings into a rain garden.
Jessica Gould
Volunteers with the D.C. Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation to transform a swath of land slated for office buildings into a rain garden.

When Michael Mills bought a condo in the Capitol Riverfront area in 2008, he expected brand new buildings to rise from the vacant lots that dot his neighborhood.

"Pre-recession, everything was going great," says Mills. "Signs going up. Buildings going down. Thinking that, by 2010-2011, everything would be built up. Then September '08 came around and that kind of put the kabash on things."

He says the buildings are coming along, but they're coming slowly. That's why he's working with a group of volunteers with the D.C. Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation to transform a swath of land slated for office buildings into a rain garden.

"Right now I'm throwing rocks in a wheel barrow and creating a little gravel path. I'm not necessarily a tree hugger, but any green space to help the environment is great. And plus, being next door it helps give a little space and it also takes away from the abanonedness of the projects," he says.

The Surfrider Foundation's Julie Lawson, who helped win a grant from REI to support the project, explains how the new rain garden works.

"The surface is concrete, construction material and rocks, and it's not very porous," says Julie Lawson with the Surfrider Foundation. She helped with a grant from REI to support the project.

"So when it rains, the water just hits it and runs off into the street and collects all the pollution before it runs into the river," Lawson says. "And so one of our goals here is to soften up the space with some plants and trees and design it so water is contained."

Eric Siegel, vice president for developer Cohen Companies, says this particular property wasn't delayed by the recession, and construction will start on schedule. But, he says, when it comes to reducing stormwater runoff, even temporary solutions are worth it.

"I saw it as an opportunity to teach local residents so we can limit the amount of rain water and storm water that runs into the Anacostia," he says.

The nearly 5,000 square-foot garden, at the corner of Half and L Streets SE, will serve as an outdoor classroom until construction begins.

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