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Orange soup: Sediment flows through Hyattsville

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Posted on: June 11, 2021

By Kelly Livingston 

Sediment pollution in the branches of the Anacostia River that flow through Hyattsville continues to trouble local residents, and the Hyattsville Department of Public Works is taking steps to respond. 

One incident on April 8 stood out. “I’ve seen sedimentation in the Northeast Branch and Northwest Branch for a while, but that was beyond anything I have ever seen here,” Hyattsville resident Theresa Goedeke said. “It was just orange, like orange soup.” 

Construction can loosen soil, and that soil, carried by stormwater to the Anacostia River and the Chesapeake Bay, becomes sediment that degrades water quality and destroys wildlife habitat

Goedeke said she reported the issue to the Hyattsville Department of Public Works, Prince George’s County, the State of Maryland and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.  

According to Dawn Taft, City of Hyattsville arborist and manager of environmental programs, the city can only control or maintain what happens on city-owned property. In response to the April 8 reports, representatives from the city, county and state inspected the sediment breaches. 

Since January, Taft has heard from residents about almost monthly incidents. “We found that some of it was coming from D.C.” 

She described how sediment from the April incident also came from a water main break and a construction site. The county representative noted a few things at the construction site that need correction, according to Taft. 

Though local sediment pollution can often fall outside of Hyattsville’s jurisdiction, the Department of Public Works is still taking steps to address the ongoing problem. The city is working on its first Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP). WIPs are part of a state-led effort to meet and maintain designated water quality standards for the Chesapeake Bay. That effort should be coming before the city council in the coming months. 

Taft noted that the city plans to roll out education programs for residents, which will include fall workshops on tree education and stormwater impacts, as well as encouragement of participation in the Rain Check Rebate Program — a state program that funds tree planting, rain barrels, and removing impermeable surfaces, among other stormwater management practices. 

The city recently sponsored 10 residents to become master watershed stewards through an academy run by the Anacostia Watershed Society. The program teaches residents about stormwater management and enables them to take on local stormwater projects or educational outreach. 

The city funded these sponsorships with grant money from the Chesapeake Bay Trust, which also helped fund a recent tree planting effort. 

Grant money additionally funded a study on stormwater impacts in the lower Ward 1 area, near the meeting of the Northeast and Northwest Branches. 

“Our first implementation project from that study is going to be a submerged gravel wetland at the corner of Charles Armentrout and Route 1,” Taft said. “We put money aside for the design and implementation of stormwater projects within the city.” 

Other upcoming city efforts include the installation of Silva Cells — a pavement system that uses underground structures to allow large tree growth and retain stormwater.

Taft recommends reporting sediment pollution directly, and quickly, to the county’s Department of Permitting, Inspections and Enforcement. She emphasized the need for a quick turnaround in order to accurately detect the source of sediment pollution: “Once it’s traveled or once it dissipates from where it came from, we can’t tell.” 

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