Green infrastructure project aims to improve water quality in Anacostia River and Chesapeake Bay; will generate stormwater credits for sale in DC’s SRC market
The Maryland and D.C. Chapter of The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington announced today a first-of-its-kind green infrastructure project aimed at capturing stormwater runoff at the historic Mount Olivet Cemetery in northeast Washington. Part of a multifaceted collaboration between TNC and the Archdiocese, this project is the result of an innovative joint venture called District Stormwater LLC, founded by TNC’s NatureVest conservation investing unit and Encourage Capital, an asset management firm based in New York. The project could potentially prevent millions of gallons of polluted stormwater from flowing into the Anacostia River.
When rain water hits such impervious surfaces as roads, it collects pollutants such as oil, sediment, or trash before flowing into sewers and eventually waterways. Over three billion gallons of stormwater run-off and sewage flow into D.C.’s local rivers each year, making it the fastest growing source of water pollution both in the Chesapeake Bay and worldwide. The stormwater flowing off Mount Olivet Cemetery drains directly into Hickey Run, one of the Anacostia River’s most impaired tributaries and a restoration priority for the District.
“The Catholic Church has always cared for the earth and for creation. Respect for human dignity, and a healthy ecosystem for all generations is a bedrock teaching of the Church,” said John Spalding, President and Chief Executive Officer for Catholic Cemeteries of the Archdiocese of Washington. “We see this unique collaboration with The Nature Conservancy as one way for the Catholic Church here in the nation’s capital to innovatively take up Pope Francis’ invitation to respect and care for the earth.”
By replacing or retrofitting impervious surfaces – primarily unused access roads – with water-retaining green infrastructure such as, grass, flower beds, shrubs and trees, the cemetery expects to see a reduction in runoff and the associated stormwater fees. The site would also generate Stormwater Retention Credits (SRC) that may be sold on the District’s innovative SRC credit market, potentially allowing private developers to meet a portion of their stormwater retention requirements through projects that retain stormwater elsewhere in the city.
Using impact capital from Prudential Financial, TNC and Encourage Capital created District Stormwater LLC, a local company that is financing and developing green infrastructure projects in D.C. District Stormwater LLC is using Prudential Financial’s investment to develop green infrastructure projects like that at Mount Olivet Cemetery.
“Tackling the problem of urban stormwater pollution requires collaboration and innovation among many different stakeholders,” said Kahlil Kettering, Urban Program Director for The Nature Conservancy in DC and Maryland. “The project at Mount Olivet Cemetery is a great example of this, bringing together entities like the Archdiocese of Washington and Prudential Financial to implement a project that may make a lasting impact on stormwater runoff in the Anacostia River. Just as importantly, Mount Olivet Cemetery will also serve as a model project for other landowners and developers looking to engage with DC’s growing SRC market, which is expected to provide immense benefits for both local water quality and area residents.”
Designs for the green infrastructure project were aimed at not simply maintaining the sanctity of the grounds but enhancing them. All work conducted in the surveying, planning and implementation of the modifications was done in close collaboration with the cemetery to ensure that the burial sites would not be disturbed, and construction would not disrupt scheduled burials or impede the ability of people coming to visit loved ones buried at the cemetery. A careful study of the cemetery’s topography, soil composition, and layout was conducted – including ground penetrating radar – leading to a design that replaces little-used roadways with rain gardens planted with native species. As well as reducing stormwater runoff, these modifications are also intended to provide habitat for pollinators and add to the grounds’ aesthetic and meditative virtues for the neighboring community and visitors.
In addition to the stormwater retention project, the Archdiocese and the Conservancy are also coordinating on two other environmental enhancement projects at Mount Olivet Cemetery, which are being implemented in collaboration with two of TNC’s close partners. Casey Trees and TNC have installed more than 150 new trees at the cemetery and the TKF Foundation will work with TNC to install a commemorative, native pollinator garden and bench. These projects will provide habitat for wildlife, water filtration benefits, and shade and places of rest for visitors.
“The collaboration with The Nature Conservancy allows Mount Olivet Cemetery to maintain the sacred burial grounds so they continue to be the quiet sanctuary for those who have loved ones buried here to visit, pray and reflect,” said Cheryl Tyiska, Manager of Mount Olivet Cemetery. “This cemetery was founded in 1858, and as limited burial space prompts us to shift our mission from burying the dead to tending and maintaining the cemetery grounds in perpetuity, we are exploring innovative ways to remain a vital part of the local community. The engagement with The Nature Conservancy does exactly that.”