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RiverSmart Homes - Success Stories

Residential development (single family houses, townhouses and apartments) is the single largest land use in the District of Columbia, and these lands are a primary source of stormwater runoff pollution. Stormwater runoff is rainwater that flows off impervious surfaces such as rooftops, driveways, roads, sidewalks and sometimes even lawns. Stormwater runoff travels from these surfaces to our streams, picking up pollutants such as oil and grease from our roadways and driveways as it goes. Nutrients from lawn fertilizers and bacteria from pet waste may also be picked up by stormwater and carried to our streams.

The District recognizes that homeowners must do their part and adopt stormwater pollution prevention techniques on their properties.

RiverSmart Homes, a new program the District launched this year, has the potential to further pollution awareness and environmental stewardship in District of Columbia homeowners, while preventing stormwater pollution at the same time. As a result of this program, the District Department of the Environment (DDOE), has installed RiverSmart Homes demonstration sites in each Ward of the city, and an additional demonstration site in the Pope Branch watershed where the program is being piloted.

The Problem

In the past, the District residential stormwater pollution programs have met with mixed success. Some problems the District has seen in instituting homeowner-targeted programs include:

  • A lack of personal transportation so event locations must work around public transportation (U.S. Census Bureau: 35 percent of District households do not own cars)
  • Those with personal transportation do not have large enough vehicles to transport give-a-way items (rain barrels and saplings)
  • Homeowners have difficulties installing and/or maintaining Best Management Practices (BMPs) (downspouts poorly disconnected, trees die, rain barrels overflow)
  • Homeowners face problems with city regulations (properly placing trees, having downspout disconnect inspected, properly installing rain gardens)

DDOE chose to pilot RiverSmart Homes in the Pope Branch because of its relatively high homeownership levels, its moderate size, and because its diversity in race and income levels will allow DDOE to develop and hone its outreach messages for various audiences.

Project Highlights

RiverSmart Homes started in the fall of 2007, and is an incentive-based program that encourages homeowners to institute the following stormwater management landscape enhancements

  1. Disconnecting downspouts and installing rain barrels
  2. Disconnecting downspouts and installing rain gardens.
  3. Planting large shade trees.
  4. Removing impervious areas and replacing them with pervious surfaces.
  5. Instituting native landscaping and integrated pest management programs.

Pervious pavers added near downspout

RiverSmart Homes hinges around “stormwater audits” of the properties of interested homeowners that are performed by DDOE personnel. These audits identify the above mentioned landscape enhancements that homeowners can install to reduce stormwater pollution from their property, while also providing valuable time with homeowners to educate them about stormwater pollution.

Following the audit, landscape enhancements chosen by the homeowner are installed by contractors. The District covers a cost up to $1,200 per household for the chosen landscape enhancements. If the homeowner decides to do more than is covered by DDOE, it is between the homeowner and the contractor to work out payment arrangements. Once the work is complete, DDOE personnel return and inspect the installation.

The program does not end once the RiverSmart Homes landscape enhancements are installed on the homeowner’s property. DDOE is developing methods for keeping in contact with RiverSmart Homes participants to help them properly care for their landscaping enhancements and to encourage them to install additional stormwater management practices on their property.


In May 2008, DDOE officially started its pilot of the RiverSmart Homes program in the Pope Branch watershed. In the six months since its launch, DDOE has gone door to door to each of the approximately 1,000 homes in the watershed and presented at several civic and neighborhood meetings in an effort to let homeowners know about the program. To date DDOE has performed over 60 stormwater audits for interested homeowners and has a waiting list of approximately 40 more homes to audit over the winter.

Rain barrel near flower bed connected to downspout

In October 2008 a RiverSmart Homes demonstration site was completed in the Pope Branch watershed and in November 2008 an open house was held for residents living in the pilot area. The first non-demonstration RiverSmart Homes sites will be installed in Pope Branch starting this winter and DDOE anticipates that it will have at least 100 sites installed by the fall of 2009 (10 percent of homes in the watershed).

Based on the lessons learned from this pilot effort, DDOE will roll out the program city-wide in the late Spring of 2009. Although the RiverSmart Homes program has not been advertised outside of the pilot area, word has spread about the program and DDOE already has a list of around 500 interested homeowners throughout the city.

Partners & Support

The Friends of Rock Creek’s Environment, Casey Trees, DC Greenworks, the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, Natural Resource Designs, and Government of the District of Columbia have all contributed to the success of the RiverSmart Homes program. Furthermore this program could never have existed without the input from and aid of dozens of Pope Branch community members who filled out surveys and participated in focus group meetings, along with the demonstration site homeowners throughout the city who have opened their homes to DDOE to run tours showcasing RiverSmart Homes practices.

Participating homeowners display their recognition awards

Service Contact: 
Lauren Linville, RiverSmart Homes
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