Beautifying Breewood: designing to create colorful gardens and improve water quality

The Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is focused on improving the infrastructure and landscape of communities in order to minimize the damaging effects of stormwater runoff. While stormwater management projects are popping up in neighborhoods such as Montgomery Village and North Potomac, one of our first neighborhood-focused restoration projects was in the Breewood watershed near Wheaton.

In 2009, DEP began restoration work in the watershed of the Breewood Tributary. Located in the southeastern portion of the County, the Tributary flows into Sligo Creek, which in turn flows into the Anacostia River. A study of the local watershed revealed that pollution and runoff caused by human impacts and development were taking a toll on the health of the Breewood Tributary, including erosion, poor water quality and loss of wildlife habitat. In some cases, backyards were washing away.

Working in partnership with the community, DEP launched a multi-year restoration effort to implement a series of projects to undo much of this damage.

DEP’s goals for Breewood and beyond:

  • To create and install landscape designs that absorb stormwater as it flows off of impervious surfaces, such as concrete and asphalt. By capturing stormwater before it makes its way to local creeks and streams, we can improve water quality.
  • Along with improving water quality, the projects in Breewood create habitat for local pollinators, such as butterflies and bees, and beautify the community.
Regenerative Stormwater Conveyance “steps” in the Breewood Tributary.

Our Plan:

Slow the flow!

  • DEP installed a system of steps and pools in a section of the creek, through a process called Regenerative Stormwater Conveyance. These steps were carefully built into the stream bed to slow down water flow, in order to reduce stream bank erosion — a major problem in this section of the watershed.
  • Eroding streambanks deposit sediment into the water, which is carried downstream and can cause problems for amphibians and fish. It also blocks sunlight, making it difficult for underwater plants to thrive. By slowing down erosion, we can improve water quality in this community as well as downstream, in Sligo Creek.
New canopy trees, planted along Breewood Road near the tributary.

Plant trees.

  • New trees are essential as we improve this tributary. Trees provide habitat for birds and animals. They also provide shade, cooling the water in the creek and making it more habitable for fish and amphibians. Their roots absorb water runoff from the streets and sidewalks nearby, reducing the amount of stormwater that washes into the creek.
  • DEP strategically planted trees near the end of Breewood Road to create a large bioretention zone that will absorb stormwater as it flows off of the road. A bioretention zone is an area that is landscaped with shallow basins in a way that slows, absorbs and treats stormwater runoff.

Designing and planting RainScapes.

  • DEP staff worked with property owners in the Breewood Manor Neighborhood community to design and install RainScapes and right-of-way gardens that absorb rainwater. “The goal is to create a stormwater solution that is also an amenity for the community,” said Ann English, director of DEP’s RainScapes program. Trained as a landscape architect, Ann worked with the community to choose plants that would add color and interest to each block. The RainScapes are enjoyed by pollinators, too: on a recent site visit, swallowtail butterflies and bees were enjoying the purple coneflowers!
Close up: a swallowtail butterfly enjoys these purple coneflowers!

Tracking our progress:

Now that construction is complete, DEP is closely monitoring the progress in Breewood so we can track the impact of these projects. As we observe and track water flow in the tributary, we are seeing that “flashy flows” (sudden rushing water that can cause flooding, usually during a storm) are moving quickly downstream and causing less erosion. In other words, the RSC feature and bioretention area are already improving stormwater problems in this area.

We will continue to monitor this site and track progress, to see how the new plants and RainScapes perform over time. To help make sure the new plants and trees establish healthy root structures, and to prevent problems with invasive plants, DEP will be maintaining the new plants for a minimum of 5 years.

Stay tuned for more updates on our efforts to improve water quality in the Breewood Tributary!

Additional resources:

By Susan Kornacki, Outreach and Education Specialist, Department of Environmental Protection

This article was originally posted on My Green Montgomery is your guide to living a green life in Montgomery County, MD.

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