First posted on 08-16-2013
Here’s a refreshing bit of news. Rather than focus on the costs of cleaning up a polluted stream, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) celebrated the jobs, and the millions of dollars in value the restoration project contributed to a local economy.
This stream renovation project didn’t happen in the Ozarks, but it still underscores a critical, often missed benefit of maintaining healthy streams as well as breathing life back into sick ones. The Watts Branch of the Anacostia River in Prince Georges County, Maryland flows through Washington D.C.’s metropolitan area. The branch only runs for about five miles before it flows into the Anacostia. That river then empties into the Potomac, which eventually drains into Chesapeake Bay.
Runoff and an eroded stream channel had been dumping about 1,500 tons of sediment into the Anacostia watershed annually. Sewage pipeline leaks added bacteria and other pollutants to the dying stream.
In 2010, several federal agencies—including the Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service, and the Environmental Protection Agency—teamed up with agencies in the District of Columbia to create a partnership aimed at restoring Watts Branch.
In just one year, the partners restored the eroded stream channel, and both relocated and improved sewer lines so that they no longer posed a threat to the stream. The team also rebuilt wildlife habitats along the course of the stream, and improved a park as well as green spaces for local residents.
“The Watt’s Branch restoration turned a degraded stream into an urban sanctuary within an underserved community,” the U.S. Geological Survey report stated.
Improved water quality has led to a resurgence of aquatic wildlife in and around Watts Branch. Fish, including the American eel, alewife and American shad are back. The return of fish and other aquatic creatures brought in a thriving bird population that included warblers, barred owls and great blue herons.
According to the USGS study, the project directly resulted in 26 new jobs that pumped $1.5 million of salaries, wages and benefits into the local economy. Another 19 indirectly added jobs brought in another $1.1 million to the area. Plus, the clean stream contributed about $3.4 million in added value to the communities along the banks of Watts Branch.
Today, a D.C. area non-profit uses Watts Branch as an outdoor classroom that prepares an emerging workforce for careers in urban and community forestry. And all the attention to Watts Branch also resulted in upgrades to both streets and utilities.
In the Ozarks, we are gifted with pristine rivers and streams. Hopefully, we will never have to face a task as daunting as the clean up effort faced at Watts Branch. It is incumbent on all of us in the Ozarks to protect our water, whether in streams or lakes.
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