RiverSmart Homes Landscaping Program

June, 27 2018
Noah Maghsadi
Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay (Jamie Alberti)
A D.C. home after rain garden construction.

The high percentage of impervious cover within Washington, DC prevents rain from soaking into the ground. This stormwater runoff transports pollutants to local waterways, and ultimately to the Chesapeake Bay. Runoff also erodes local streams and deposits sediment that destroys aquatic habitat. The problem is exacerbated by the number of residential homes in the area lacking stormwater controls, which results in stormwater contributing to combined sewer overflows.

The RiverSmart Homes Landscaping program, a partnership between the District Department of Energy & Environment (DOEE), the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, and Casey Trees, was created to give DC homeowners the opportunity to install stormwater BMPs on their property at a significantly reduced price. After residents register online, their property is evaluated by DOEE, and they are presented with potential projects to install on their properties such as rain gardens, rain barrels, permeable pavement, shade trees, and BayScape gardens. These practices help to capture and retain stormwater on site, reducing the amount of stormwater that enters the sewer system and local waterways. After a small co-pay from the resident, DOEE provides funds for local contractors or nonprofits to install the projects. Project maintenance and upkeep are the responsibility of the homeowner. As a further incentive to participate, residents and other property owners can apply to receive up to 55% off their stormwater fee and up to 4% off their Clean Rivers Impervious Area Charge, both based on the amount of impervious area on a property. Since 2009, over 1,000 rain gardens and 1,500 BayScape gardens have been installed on private property in DC.

DOEE supports local contractors and nonprofits by frequently hiring them to install stormwater management practices on private property. This has created opportunities for business development and expansion. Some local contractors have even formed their business around the RiverSmart Homes program. For example, Changing Perceptions, a non-profit focused on developing an ownership mentality in returning citizens, has partnered with Clean Decisions to train returning citizens in landscaping and business fundamentals.  After training under Clean Decisions, a new local landscaping business was launched as a RiverSmart contractor, hiring at-risk youth and “hard to employ” populations.  Changing Perceptions hopes to continue by launching two additional businesses over the next year.

Project Location:  Washington, DC

Project Type:  Bioretention 

Scale:  5,400 homes- 1,012 rain gardens and 1,569 bayscaped gardens; approximately 3,777,000 gallons stormwater captured per year

Cost:  Around $1,450 per landscaping project; $400 per rain barrel; $300 per shade tree; $1.5 million in 2017 alone

Funding Sources:  Chesapeake Bay Implementation Grant, $1,200,000; District Stormwater Enterprise Funds, $1,400,000

Partners:  DOEE; Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay; Casey Trees; Local Contractors; Property Owners

Source:  Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay (Jamie Alberti); DOEE (Lauren Linville); riversmarthomes.org