Pedestrians walk by Rock Creek in a park.
Pedestrians and cyclists follow the Western Ridge Trail along Rock Creek near Peirce Mill in Rock Creek Park in Washington, D.C. The waterway scored well in the Public Access category in Nature Forward's report card. (Photo by Will Parson/Chesapeake Bay Program)

As children played at the park on a beautiful spring day and water flowed through the stream just feet away, Nature Forward, a nonprofit organization seeking to create a diverse community of environmental stewards, unveiled its first-ever State of the Streams report. A good crowd showed out at Meadowbrook Local Park in Chevy Chase, Maryland to hear about the quality of five different streams that Nature Forward has been monitoring throughout Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia.

Streams are a crucial part of the Chesapeake Bay’s circulatory system, carrying sediments, nutrients and other materials into rivers and lakes and on to the Bay. Streams are also vital ecosystems on their own, providing wildlife habitat, protecting us from floods and supplying much of the drinking water for the public.

Rock Creek, along with the four other monitored creeks all were all rated “fair” in this report, scoring between 65-75 on a scale of 0-100. The streams were graded based on water quality, biodiversity and habitats, climate resilience and access to the water.

Each of these overarching indicators has a number of subcategories. Water quality was measured based on a stream’s benthic macroinvertebrates, fish populations, water chemistry and the amount of surrounding impervious surfaces such as roads and buildings . The Biodiversity and Habitats score is based on stream blockages, invasive plants, physical habitat and water chemistry. The Climate Resilience indicator is determined based on tree canopy, air quality, stream buffers and wetlands. Finally, Accessibility was judged through tree equity and park access.

The State of the Streams event was opened by Nature Forward’s Director of Conservation, Lydia Lawrence, who spearheaded the monitoring efforts and the creation of the report card. Lawrence invited representatives from each monitored stream to say a few words.

Two ducks swim in Rock Creek
A male and female wood duck visit Rock Creek at Rock Creek Park in Washington, D.C., although the stream scored poorly in the Biodiversity and Habitat category. (Photo by Will Parson/Chesapeake Bay Program)

Rock Creek

The event kicked off with Jeanne Braha, the Executive Director of the Rock Creek Conservancy. Braha notes that these streams affect our quality of life, and it is crucial for personal and public funds to be invested into the health of our streams.

Rock creek scored a 67 on the grading scale, and is doing the best with the Access indicator which was apparent through the lovely pavilion the event was held under. With its proximity to urban communities running through DC and Montgomery County, MD, the tributary did well in both Tree Equity and Park Access, also receiving high scores in Stream Buffers, Birds and Water Chemistry.

Rock Creek’s lowest score was in biodiversity and habitats, doing very poorly in fish passage with many dams and barriers within the creek having a negative impact on the breeding cycle of different species. Like many of the other streams included in the report, Rock Creek also has to grapple with the pressures of impervious surface from its urban surroundings, invasive plants and lack of tree canopy.

Accotink Creek

Philip Latasa, Co-founder of Friends of Accotink Creek, represented the only waterway in this report in Virginia. Located in Fairfax County, Accotink Creek is a tributary of the Potomac River and received a total score of 66 in this report. This creek did best in the Public Access indicator scoring a 78, in addition to getting a perfect score of 100 in the Birds subcategory of Biodiversity and Habitats, reflecting the richness of its wildlife.

One major opportunity for improvement for Accotink Creek’s health is reflected in its Water Quality score where it did poorly in its Benthic Macroinvertebrates indicator. Benthic macroinvertebrates are reliable indicators of pollution in a stream because they are only able to survive at certain levels of pollution.

Sligo Creek

Sligo Creek, a tributary of the Anacostia River that flows through Silver Spring to Prince George’s County, Maryland, scored a 67 as their grand total on this report card. While Sligo scored the highest out of all the creeks on Accessibility, it fell short in climate resilience, doing poorly in Tree Canopy as well as Impervious Surface and Fish Populations. As Kit Gage, Director of Advocacy for the Friends of Sligo Creek states, “our tree canopy is not so good, but it is good because everyone can see it,” referring to their impressive score of a 91 in Access.

Although Gage emphasized the importance of accessibility to the waterways, she reinforces the notion that each stream has its specific characteristics. Although public access to the creek is a good thing, being in an urban space also comes with harming fish population and water quality, which brings more invasive plant species.

Seneca Creek

Covering 129 square miles, Seneca Creek is the largest watershed included in this report, as well as the largest watershed in Montgomery County, Maryland. The creek scored an overall total of 68, doing fairly well in all categories except for Climate Resilience, where it scored a 53 due to having a low Tree Canopy score. Because of the tributary’s low score in Tree Canopy as well as Invasive Plants, it scored very low in its Benthic Macroinvertebrate category.

Because this watershed is so large, it faces a large array of challenges through being in a geographic mix of rural and urban areas. The representatives of Seneca Creek Watershed Partners note that the I-270 highway is a major problem in terms of water quality, and any new highway proposals will only further threaten the health of this stream.

Little Falls Branch

Despite its small size, Little Falls Branch scored the highest overall on this report with an overall total of 74. This waterway also set itself apart in its wetlands score, being the only one to gain wetlands within its watershed within a 15-year period, which is incredibly important to improving the health of the stream. Little Falls Branch has the greatest room for improvement in its Stream Buffer score, as it received a 0 for having only 33% of the stream surrounded by 100’ thick buffers, which are important for providing habitat for wildlife in addition to protecting the waters from climate impacts such as heat and stormwater runoff.

Sarah Morse, Founder and Board Member of Little Falls Watershed Alliance, closed out by stating that the report card is a great resource to inform the public on the safety of their local waterways, while informing those working on them on what's doing well and what needs improvement.

After representatives from each watershed were able to speak, local leaders were able to speak on the importance of stream health in their work as well. Chris Herrington, Director of Fairfax County Department of Public Works & Environmental Services, states that “creeks are the veins of our ecosystems” and that we should remain hopeful for their health. Kate Stewart and Evan Glass, Montgomery County Councilmembers, reiterated the importance of healthy streams to our physical and mental wellbeing, and closed out the event with presenting a proclamation to commemorate April 18 as State of the Streams Day.



There are no comments.

Leave a comment:

Time to share! Please leave comments that are respectful and constructive. We do not publish comments that are disrespectful or make false claims.

Thank you!

Your comment has been received. Before it can be published, the comment will be reviewed by our team to ensure it adheres with our rules of engagement.

Back to recent stories