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Watershed Management

In Alexandria, Four Mile Run, Hunting Creek/Cameron Run, and Holmes Run are considered impaired by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality because they do not meet water quality standards and do not support their designated uses. A leading source of this impairment is polluted stormwater.


About Watershed Management 

Little Hunting Creek Park

Where does the pollution come from? Almost every street, lawn, driveway, rooftop, and parking lot in Alexandria is connected to a storm drain. When it rains, stormwater flows over these surfaces and mixes with pollutants such as spilled motor oil, pet waste, pesticides, paint, grease, and litter. This stormwater then runs directly to our local waterways, which eventually flow to the Potomac River and the Chesapeake Bay carrying with it all of the pollutants it picked up along the way.

The City has long been proactive in its efforts to control stormwater pollution. During the development of Alexandria's Stormwater Management Plan, the City engaged in an extensive assessment of existing stormwater management options, ordinances, and programming and evaluated them against National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) compliance requirements. The City has incorporated many of these elements into its current stormwater management program.

Water Quality Management Supplement

On January 13, 2001, the City Council adopted the Water Quality Management Supplement to the Master Plan, thus, fulfilling the phase II requirements of the Chesapeake Bay Program and completing a process that began in late 1996. The Northern Virginia Region Commission (NVRC) in close collaboration with Alexandria’s Department of Transportation and Environmental Services prepared the document. On March 19, 2001, the Chesapeake Bay Local Assistance Board “determined that the amendments made to the City of Alexandria’s Comprehensive Plan have made its Phase II program consistent” with the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act.

This document emphasizes Alexandria’s water and habitat resources; it focuses on water quality impacts and directs the City, through specific initiatives, to preserve our existing resources and reclaim and better manage our watersheds. As proof of the City’s commitment, the City Council has earmarked money for FY 2002, continuing through FY 2006, for environmental restoration.

Controlling Stormwater Pollution

Alexandria has been pro-active in controlling pollution in stormwater runoff for many years. The City’s Soil Erosion and Sediment Control Ordinance actually predates Virginia law and regulations.

Article XIII of the City Zoning Ordinance contains the provisions of both the Virginia Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act and the Virginia Stormwater Management Act, making the City’s developer best management practices (BMP)* program one of the most rigorous ones in the state. Over 1,000 acres of the City have been placed under developer-constructed BMP control since the ordinance was passed in 1992. In addition, City staff has worked with developers to route the runoff of over 1,000 acres of previously developed properties through regional retrofit BMPs under our "Targets of Opportunity" program. Our staff estimates that these facilities likely meet the "Urban Retrofit" pollution reduction targets for the entire Virginia Shenandoah-Potomac Nutrient Reduction Strategy. The over 2,000 acres of BMP coverage (including approximately 1,150 acres of impervious surfaces) under these two programs is more than 20 percent of the total land area within the City.

Alexandria has also taken the lead in Northern Virginia in the development and employment of BMPs, which meet the needs of the "Ultra-Urban Environment" (a term that was coined by our staff in 1991). For several years, the City’s Alexandria Supplement to the Northern Virginia BMP Handbook was the only reference available on treating stormwater pollution in heavily built-up areas, and the City has sold hundreds of copies to jurisdictions all over the U.S. and as far distant as Australia and New Zealand. Of the approximately 500 BMPs installed within the City, most are either intermittent sand filters or bioretention filters.

Working with information provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, City staff has also published a Best Management Practices Manual for Automotive Related Industries. Compliance with the manual is required of all such businesses that require a Special Use Permit (SUP) by placing appropriate conditions on their SUPs.

Alexandria Renew Enterprises (AlexRenew), formerly Alexandria Sanitation Authority, has also taken a proactive position in the reduction of nutrients reaching the Potomac from point sources. AlexRenew is currently under construction on a five-year rehabilitation of their wastewater treatment plant that will incorporate state-of-the-art biological nutrient removal (BNR) of nitrogen compounds, elevating the entire plant to the upper limits of current technology.

In summary, Alexandria and AlexRenew have gone well beyond compliance with their programs to protect the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries in or adjacent to the City. The Federal/Multi-State Chesapeake Bay Program recognized the City's efforts by the award of a 1997 Community Innovation Award for the "Targets of Opportunity" Program.

Questions on Alexandria's stormwater quality program may be addressed to the City's Watershed Program Administrator, at 703-746-4014. 

* A term used to describe measures to prevent or remove pollution from stormwater runoff. Facilities to remove pollution from runoff, such as wet ponds, detention facilities, infiltration facilities, sand filters, and "bioretention facilities" are known as "structural BMPs." 

Why Your Involvement is Important

Stormwater near your home or business does not have to be an environmental hazard. The best way to help keep local streams, the Potomac River and the Chesapeake Bay clean is to prevent pollution before it starts. Pollution prevention is critical to the improvement of water quality in our streams. Simple changes to daily activities at home and at work will help improve water quality for future generations.

Your involvement is the key to a successful water quality management program. There are many ways citizens can get involved: 

Top things you can do to protect local streams and rivers:

  1. Never throw or dump anything down storm drains, they are for rain water only.
  2. Don’t litter. Put trash where it belongs.
  3. Always clean up after your pets. Dispose of pet waste properly.
  4. Keep your car well maintained and fix leaks as soon as possible.
  5. Use fertilizers and pesticides sparingly.
  6. Plant a tree. Trees provide numerous environmental benefits.
  7. Properly dispose of Hazardous materials such as paint, oil, and antifreeze. Take used oil and automotive fluids to a local service station for recycling. The City's Household Hazardous Waste & Electronics Recycling program allows residents to properly dispose of hazardous materials. Use non-toxic chemicals when possible. Never dump chemicals down the storm drain.
  8. Don't blow grass clippings and leaves in the street or down a storm drain. Use the City's Yard Waste Recycling programs.
  9. Be our eyes and ears. If you observe a spill, hazardous materials in the stream, or someone dumping something down the storm drain, contact the Stormwater and Sanitary Infrastructure Division at 703-746-4014.

Pass the pollution prevention message along and let others know how they can make a difference. HELP KEEP ALEXANDRIA BEAUTIFUL! 

What You Can Do

Get Involved 

  • Be our eyes and ears. Contact us if you observe a spill or other foreign materials in a stream or storm drain.
  • Report illegal dumping in storm drains, streams, or open spaces.
  • Participate in stream cleanups.
  • Start a storm drain marking program in your neighborhood.
  • Participate in local stream restoration and planting projects.
  • Join or support a local environmental group or "Friends of" group.
  • Educate your family, friends, and neighbors about the importance of protecting local water resources.
  • Have a neighborhood cleanup

Around Your Home or Business 

  • Properly use and dispose of household chemicals. The City provides a Household Hazardous Waste & Electronics Recycling program for proper disposal purposes.
  • Keep streets and parks litter free. Any litter you drop in the street or in a park will likely end up in a local stream. Besides looking bad, it can harm the environment and wildlife.
  • Avoid washing paintbrushes under outdoor water faucets - this washes harmful chemicals into the streams. Never wash paint brushes into the storm drain.
  • Wash your car on the grass where the soil absorbs the water, which can help nourish the lawn. Besides washing litter into the stormwater drain, hosing the car near the gutter also means polluting streams with detergents and other chemicals.
  • Do not dump used motor oil in the storm drain - take to a recycling center.
  • Keep your car well maintained and fix leaks as soon as possible. Your car is a source of stormwater pollution! For example, small amounts of tire and brake pad wear off and wash into the stream when it rains. Also, small leaks of oil and other fluids have harmful effects downstream.
  • Take used oil and automotive fluids to a local service station for recycling or take advantage of the City's Household Hazardous Waste and Electronics Recycling program.
  • Visit the City's Resource Recovery & Recycling webpage for other things you can do around your home or at work.

Around Your Yard 

  • Select slow release or insoluble fertilizers.
  • Read and follow the instructions on the fertilizer bags.
  • Test your soil. Know how much fertilizer to use and don’t overfertilize. Or better yet, don’t fertilize at all if it isn’t necessary!
  • Ask your lawn care company to fertilize with care.
  • Don't blow grass clippings and leaves in the street or down a storm drain. Leaves and lawn clippings washed into the streams decompose, creating food for bacteria in the water. This encourages the growth of harmful plant life, which can kill fish, as well as other plant life that help keep streams healthy.
  • Fertilizers and pesticides can end up downstream and harm aquatic life. Use fertilizers and pesticides wisely so you can maintain a healthy lawn and prevent water pollution at the same time.
  • Plant a tree. Trees provide a wide range of environmental benefits. Trees use nutrients and can prevent those nutrients from entering our streams. Their roots also hold the soil in place, thereby preventing erosion.
  • Landscape slopes, especially along stream banks to prevent erosion.
  • Don't hook downspouts to the storm sewer system or onto paved surfaces.
  • Mulch grass clippings.
  • When watering, avoid overspray onto paved surfaces.
  • Use plants that are native to the area and more resistant to drought.
  • Use a rain barrel to capture roof runoff during storms and use that water to irrigate your lawn.

Dog and GirlPet Care
Did you know that many of Alexandria's streams exceed Virginia's standards for fecal coliform bacteria? Fecal coliform bacteria are present in the intestinal tracts of all warm-blooded animals and are an indicator that a potential health risk exists for individuals exposed to the water.

Pet waste is a significant source of fecal coliform bacteria in Alexandria. When pet waste is not properly disposed of, it can wash into nearby streams or be carried by runoff into storm drains. These storm drains do not connect to treatment facilities. Instead, they drain directly into our streams and eventually the Chesapeake Bay.

The nutrients and organic matter in pet waste can also cause significant water quality degradation. Excess nutrients can cause algae blooms that block sunlight and kill underwater vegetation. Decaying pet waste uses up dissolved oxygen in the water that fish and other aquatic species rely on to live.

Simple Ways to Love Your Pet and the Environment! 

  • Always clean up after your pet - Dog droppings in parks, on the street and even in your garden can all end up polluting our streams. It may not be the most pleasant chore, but it can prevent water pollution and it's the law. Failure to do so on public property is subject to a $100 fine (City Code§5- 7 -46).
  • Dispose of pet waste properly - Bag it and place pet waste in the trash; Flush pest waste down the toilet.
  • Never dispose of pet waste in a storm drain - These drains lead directly to local waterways.
  • Encourage other pet owners to be responsible - It is an important part of the responsibility of owning a pet. We all suffer the consequences of ignoring irresponsible pet owners.

The City has several managed dog exercise areas. For more information or locations, please contact the Alexandria Department of Recreation, Parks and Cultural Activities at 703.838.4943 or visit the Dogs in Alexandria webpage.

If we each do a little, it can add up to a lot. For more information, contact the Stormwater and Sanitary Infrastructure Division at 703-746-4014.

Erosion & Sediment Control 

What is Erosion?
Soil erosion is the process of detachment and transportation of soil materials by water, wind, ice and gravity. When natural landscape is developed into houses, subdivisions, shopping centers, roads and parking lots, these land use conversions are collectively referred to as urbanization. Water-generated, accelerated erosion is unquestionably the most severe erosion in areas undergoing urbanization. Erosion problems associated with construction activities include water pollution, flooding, stream channel damage, decreased groundwater storage, slope failures, damage to adjacent and/or downstream properties, and the time and costs associated with addressing these issues.

TownhouseWhat is Erosion and Sediment Control?
Successful minimization of these impacts can be achieved by implementing Erosion and Sediment Control (ESC) measures on construction sites to prevent soil movement/loss, enhance project aesthetics, reduce complaints, and most importantly, eliminate appreciable damage to off-site receiving channels, property and natural resources.

The basis of the City's efforts to control runoff from construction sites is the City's Erosion & Sediment Control Program and the City's Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act compliance program. Each program is designed to meet State mandates for erosion and sediment control and water quality protection. These programs require that any construction project that disturbs at least 2,500 square feet have a City approved construction pollution prevention plan and install appropriate construction site runoff controls to meet the goal of reduced pollutant discharge to the City's streams.

Due to their earth-disturbing operations, construction sites can contribute more sediment to streams than can be deposited naturally during several decades. The resulting sedimentation and the contribution of other pollutants from construction sites can harm the City's streams, the Potomac River and the Chesapeake Bay. Construction site runoff control is key to preventing sediment from earth-disturbing operations, as well as construction debris, from contaminating the City's streams.
Controlling sediment and debris at construction sites has many benefits in addition to avoiding environmental degradation. These benefits include reducing mud and litter in the street and reduction of sediment and debris in storm sewers. 

Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) Program

City's Stormwater Program Recognized by Water Environment Federation

On Monday, September 28, the Phase II MS4 Program was recognized by the Water Environment Federation's (WEF) National Municipal Stormwater and Green Infrastructure Awards Program as a Gold-level community and winner in the Phase II Innovation category.  Visit WEF's MS4 Awards for more information on the awards program.  More information on the City's MS4 Program is provided below.

MS4 Stormwater Program Plan

Under the Virginia Pollution Discharge Elimination System (VPDES) regulations, the City is required to control stormwater pollution to the maximum extent practicable and to develop a pollution prevention plan – known as a Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) Program Plan. Under two previous permit cycles, the City’s initial plan was developed in 2003 and was revised in 2008.  Per the current MS4 permit, the program plan was revised in June 2014 and again in June 2015 to reflect changes in the  MS4 permit. The permit contains Six Minimum Control Measures (MCMs) listed below. The City has developed appropriate and effective Best Management Practices (BMPs) to control stormwater pollution to the maximum extent practicable. The current MS4 Program Plan contains the BMPs that address the MCMs, with a overview provided below.

MS4 Annual Reports 
Also under the VPPDES MS4 permit regulations, the City is required to submit an annual report to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). The report provides details of the BMPs the City performs as part of the MS4 Program Plan to meet or exceed the control measures (MCMs) of the MS4 Phase II General Permit. The City is required to keep all annual reports online for the current permit. 

The following annual report covers the July 1, 2013 to June 30, 2014 reporting period .

Alexandria MS4 Annual Report Main Body
Alexandria MS4 Annual Report AppendixA 
Alexandria MS4 Annual Report AppendixB 
Alexandria MS4 Annual Report AppendixC 
Alexandria MS4 Annual Report AppendixD 
Alexandria MS4 Annual Report AppendixE
Alexandria MS4 Annual Report AppendixF
The following annual report covers the July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2015 reporting period.

Alexandria MS4 PY2 Annual Report 2014-2015

Chesapeake Bay Watershed Image
Public Education and Outreach

The City of Alexandria strives to educate and inform the public on the importance of our local waterways, watersheds, and stormwater related issues through brochures, televised messages, and signs.

The City has put together several brochures designed to educate the public on the various ways they can help reduce the impact of pollutants to local streams and waterways.

Scrolling text messages aired on the City's government access channel (Comcast Cable channel 70) provide the public with useful tips and key actions that will help reduce the impact of pollutants and protect local waterways.

Signs have been placed throughout the City along roadways at major stream crossings to inform the public on the names of local streams and their associated watershed. Additional signs placed in public parks adjacent to City streams encourage "no dumping" of litter and debris. The City also hopes to bring attention to the Spanish speaking community on the importance of our local streams and how they can be protected. Bilingual "No Dumping" signs have been placed in various areas of the City to educate both the English and Spanish speaking public that it is not acceptable to dump litter, debris, or wastes into the local streams.

A similar bilingual message is included on Storm Drain Markers placed on inlets and storm drains throughout the City to prevent the dumping of trash, oil, dog waste, etc into the drain.

City staff is also available for presentations and other educational outreach opportunities for school age children and/or adults. If you are interested in stormwater education and outreach opportunities call 703.746.4127.


Public Involvement and Participation
You can make a difference in the condition of local streams and waterways by reducing pollution, getting involved in local events and organizations, and reporting pollution problems or concerns. Most stormwater flows into our streams with little or no treatment to remove pollutants. Therefore, prevention of pollution is critical to the improvement of water quality in our streams. There are simple steps you can take around your home or business that will have a positive impact on the health of the waterways in Alexandria.

Your involvement is the key to a successful stormwater management program. There are many ways citizens can get involved: 

If you have questions or comments, please contact the Stormwater and Sanitary Infrastructure Division at 703-746-4014.

Illicit Discharge ImageIllicit Discharge Detection and Elimination
Only stormwater is allowed in the storm sewer system. An illicit discharge is defined as any discharge to the municipal separate storm sewer system that is not composed entirely of stormwater, except for discharges allowed under a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit.

Non-stormwater discharges to the storm sewer system occur most often through illegal connections to the storm sewer system or through illegal dumping activities. Because of these discharges, contaminated stormwater enters into storm drains or directly into local waters. Illicit connections may be intentional or may be unknown to the business owner, as is often the case with floor drain connections.

The City of Alexandria has mapped all waterways and stormwater outfalls. This program identified discharge points to help eliminate illegal connections to the system and discharges to our local streams. If you have any concerns about illicit discharge, suspect a problem, or notice something suspicious such as stormwater that is highly discolored, cloudy, and/or has a strong smell, please contact the Stormwater and Sanitary Infrastructure Division at 703-746-4014.

Silt FenceConstruction Site Stormwater Runoff Control
Due to earth-disturbing operations, construction sites can contribute more sediment to streams than can be deposited naturally during several decades. The resulting sedimentation and the contribution of other pollutants from construction sites can harm the City's streams, the Potomac River and the Chesapeake Bay. Construction site runoff control is key to preventing sediment from earth-disturbing operations, as well as construction debris, from contaminating the City's streams. Developers must keep sediment onsite. They must also control all construction site waste such as litter generated by job site workers and equipment waste materials such as used parts and oils.

Controlling sediment and debris at construction sites is crucial to protecting the environment, mitigating flooding by keeping this material out of our streams and storm drain system, and ensuring safer vehicular travel by keeping mud out of the streets.

The City's efforts to control stormwater runoff from construction sites are derived from the State's Erosion & Sediment Control Program and Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act. Local compliance of these two programs requires any construction project that disturbs at least 2,500 square feet to have an Erosion and Sediment Control Plan. Additionally, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the City of Alexandria Stormwater Management Program (VSMP) requires the project to have a Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan (SWPPP) related to the General Permit for Discharges from Construction Activities. Once the SWPPP is prepared, a registration statement for coverage under the VSMP Construction General Permit must be submitted to the City. For more information about controlling construction site run-off click on the following links:

For more information on Erosion and Sediment Control, contact the Construction and Inspection Division at 703-746-4035. For information on the City's Chesapeake Bay Preservation program, contact the Stormwater and Sanitary Infrastructure Division at 703-746-4014.

Reading SignPost-Construction Stormwater Management Regulations
Post-construction runoff control in areas that have undergone development or redevelopment is necessary because runoff from these areas has been shown to significantly impact receiving streams.

Stormwater management regulations are designed to reduce pollution from development. As runoff flows over areas altered by development, it picks up harmful sediment and chemicals such as oil and grease, pesticides, heavy metals, and nutrients (e.g., nitrogen and phosphorus). These pollutants often become suspended in runoff and are carried to streams. In addition, areas undergoing development or redevelopment often result in increased impervious surfaces. Impervious surfaces, such as roofs, parking lots, and roads, increase the quantity of runoff generated by preventing water from filtering through vegetation and soil. This can result in stream bank erosion and downstream flooding, which often lead to a loss of aquatic life and damage to property.

The City has long required that development and redevelopment projects implement stormwater facility Best Management Practices (BMPs) to minimize the increase of pollutants and runoff to the City's streams. Examples of BMPs and stormwater controls include stormwater wet/dry detention ponds, vegetative buffers, bioretention areas, hydrodynamic structures, sand filters, cluster development to retain open space, and design standards that promote stream buffers and reduce impervious surfaces. The City also encourages a "tool box" approach to stormwater quality when site conditions and circumstances permit. This approach includes stream restoration, vegetated buffer enhancement, and constructing green roofs.

Ongoing maintenance of BMPs is required to ensure that they continue to function as designed. Detention ponds lose capacity as sediment and pollutants are captured and accumulate in the pond. Sand filters can clog with sediment, oil, and organic matter such as leaves and lawn clippings. Bioretention areas can lose their capacity to infiltrate stormwater. After a development is complete, the responsibility for maintenance is passed on to the owners of the development through the BMP Maintenance agreement. Frequently, the owners, be it a business or homeowners association, are unaware of their obligation to provide maintenance and/or unaware of the proper procedures to inspect and maintain BMPs. The City can assist in helping BMP owners / operators understand their maintenance obligations and can provide technical guidance for inspecting and maintaining BMPs.

BMP maintenance is VITAL to the proper functioning of each BMP and failure to properly maintain BMPs can even degrade water quality further. Failure to properly maintain BMPs can result in fines of up to $32,500 per day per violation. It is very important that property owners understand their obligations for the maintenance and inspection of BMPs.

For more information, contact the Stormwater and Sanitary Infrastructure Division at 703-746-4014.

Pollution Prevention for Municipal Activities
In doing its part to help minimize stormwater pollution, the City evaluates its own operations to minimize stormwater pollution and protect water quality. This includes performing assessments of City facilities and providing pollution prevention and good housekeeping training for relevant City employees to ensure good practices are used on City construction and maintenance projects. Training topics include the proper storage, handling, and usage of material to minimize the potential for stormwater pollution. In addition, the City requires contractors working for the City to implement pollution prevention and good housekeeping measures on City projects. The City has developed Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plans (SWPPP) for its Transportation and Environmental Services operations facilities.

For more information, contact the Stormwater and Sanitary Infrastructure Division at 703-746-4014.