D.c. Brings Underground Streams Back To Light (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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D.C. Brings Underground Streams Back to Light

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:03
So you can't make beer without water, right? And our next story is actually all about water. Although it's water you can't see, yet. D.C.'s Department of the Environment is about to do something it's never done before. It's going to take a stream, that was diverted underground nearly a century ago and restore that stream above ground.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:22
It's a process is known as daylighting, and the first stream to see the light is a tributary of Broad Branch Stream in Northwest Washington's Forest Hills neighborhood. Environment reporter Jonathan Wilson met up with project manager Steve Saari to find out what it takes to resurrect a stream, and which other streams could rise up next.

MR. STEVE SAARI

00:00:39
So we're in a piece of land that is pretty much wooded and it's a part of the Fort Circle Park. There were all these areas where there were forts surrounding the city during the Civil War. And at one time the National Park Service or the federal government had the idea of building a parkway that connected all of them. They never built that parkway, but they still have the linear connection between a lot of those parks.

MR. STEVE SAARI

00:01:03
And this is one of those linear connections. And the exact location where we're at is just behind Connecticut Avenue, near Politics and Prose. And there's a stream that comes out as a natural spring from the hillside and flows down to right near Broad Branch Road where it goes into a pipe.

MR. JONATHAN WILSON

00:01:19
Why did you decide that this was something worth doing? Because I imagine it is, you know, a difficult and involved process. You had, you know, a stream that was pumped underground years ago, not necessarily a natural process. I'm sure it took a lot of work. Why decide to undo it?

SAARI

00:01:35
Well, my job and the job of our agency is to try and restore the water quality and health of our local streams. And this project hits many of those things. One, we're bringing a stream back where there wasn't one. So that, in itself, is restoring a stream -- really restoring a stream. But on top of that, we're doing things to treat the stormwater that's coming off the roadways nearby to improve the water quality that will end up flowing into that stream, as well.

SAARI

00:02:01
So it's win-win situation. And it was just really straightforward because we had this open space where we could do it. And we could see where the stream used to be. And the hard part was actually doing the designs and getting the negotiations with the different partners to get it in place.

WILSON

00:02:16
Was this a common practice and do other cities have a lot of streams that were placed underground?

SAARI

00:02:21
Yes. This is very common. We wouldn't do this now, but in the 1800s and 1900s this is the way cities developed, is that we wanted to get stormwater quickly away from houses. We wanted to develop densely. And we ended up piping those streams and building over top of them. Suitland Parkway -- if you look at Suitland Parkway it basically follows an old stream. Piney Branch Road, Spring Street, Broad Branch Road, all these are examples of areas where there were streams that were above ground that are now underground.

WILSON

00:02:54
Right now, are we walking in what will be the streambed?

SAARI

00:02:56
Yes. Exactly. This is -- the idea is that the way they construct it is that they use the place where the streambed is going to be as the road to reach the place where they're going to do construction. That way you remove the least number of trees from the project. And you only impact the area where you're rebuilding the stream.

WILSON

00:03:16
And it looks like here, you know, we're looking at part of the project that they've constructed. There already is kind of like a stream kind of starting to develop.

SAARI

00:03:22
Absolutely. The way the project is built is that what will begin to come up from the ground water table, and being to perk into the system, and you'll start to see flow through the areas where we have -- and actually downstream you'll see there's already a lot of water there.

WILSON

00:03:39
It looks to me like this is a natural, I mean, yeah, you have trees that look like they've fallen across, trees that are leaning across. And you're telling me that a lot of that is part of the engineering of how to design a streambed.

SAARI

00:03:53
Yes. It's part engineering and part artwork. The great thing is our contractor has both, that engineering and art side to it. And these trees create structure for habitat. Places for salamanders to hide and shelter for frogs to hide underneath the -- in the water. So it's not just there for aesthetics. It's there for the wildlife as well.

WILSON

00:04:16
I know, you know, just from doing other reporting on different streams and bodies of water around here, one way to kind of measure water quality is by the natural organisms that are living around and in the water. Do you guys hope that this will bring back species that haven't been in this particular area and plants that haven't been here in a while, is that part of your goal?

SAARI

00:04:35
Absolutely. In fact, we are going to see species that we haven't seen here. Because we don't even have water, we don't have frogs and amphibians that would normally be here in the spring. I guarantee you this spring there will be frogs and amphibians here that weren't here previously. Just downstream there are wood ducks that live in the stream. They're going to start coming up this direction. We're going to see plants that you wouldn't find except for in these water-loving environments.

WILSON

00:05:00
You've been, you know, with the Department of Environment for years now, how novel, how exciting is this process? You say it's really -- it's never been done in the District before. Is this particularly exciting for you?

SAARI

00:05:11
Oh, yes. It's very exciting for all of us. It's the first time it's ever happened in the District. It's one, as I said, of, you know, a couple dozen that have happened nationwide and worldwide. And it's taken us about seven years to get to this place.

SHEIR

00:05:25
That was Steve Saari, project manager with D.C.'s Department of the Environment, talking with environment reporter Jonathan Wilson. Want to see some daylighting in action? We have pictures of the crew's progress, along with a nifty informational video on our website, metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

00:05:54
Coming up, they say every cloud has a silver lining, but when will we get our Silver Line?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE #1

00:06:01
And we're going through the list and we're checking it twice. And we're very much focused on getting these items done.

SHEIR

00:06:08
And an island, renowned for its wild ponies, steps into the theatrical spotlight.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE #1

00:06:14
(unintelligible) please, I'm tired. I got to operate tomorrow.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE #2

00:06:18
You're operating tomorrow, Doctor, but tonight we take care of Mortimer.

SHEIR

00:06:22
Stay with us. That and more is coming your way on this Wild Cards edition of "Metro Connection," right here on WAMU 88.5.

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00:06:29
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