Alexandria is getting a little more green over time.
The City of Alexandria released an Alexandria Tree Canopy Assessment done by the University of Vermont that tracked the change in the city’s tree canopy between 2014 and 2018. The results are mostly positive.
“According to this assessment, Alexandria’s tree canopy increased to 32.5% in 2018,” the assessment said. “The report noted a 22.4% increase from 2014 data, with the caveat that some of that canopy gain was likely spread out over a longer period than the four-year timeframe indicated.”
Tree canopy refers to the amount of tree space visible in satellite imagery. The assessment shows that, in that time period, there were 756.5 acres of tree canopy gained and 196.3 acres lost.
The city’s goal is a 40% tree canopy: meaning that 40% of the city has tree coverage when viewed in satellite imagery. As of 2018, the city has 32.5% tree canopy coverage, though it’s spread out unevenly. Much of the city’s tree canopy was centered around the more residential center of the city, in neighborhoods like Rosemont and North Ridge.
Alexandria is a mosaic of landscapes, including parks, historical districts, dense commercial areas, and suburban residential lands. This patchwork leads to uneven distribution of tree canopy. A grid of 25-acre hexagons was used to visualize the distribution of tree canopy. Across the city, canopy coverage within these hexagons ranges from less than 1% to over 90%. Higher amounts of tree canopy are present in conserved forests and established residential areas–the lowest amounts of tree canopy exist in the commercial districts and along the major transportation corridors.
The study also looked at areas where tree canopy could be improved — namely areas where there are vegetated surfaces that don’t feature trees. Most of this was concentrated in areas south of King Street, like the Seminary Hill neighborhood, and near Potomac Yard.
The assessment also pointed out areas where the city experienced a loss in tree canopy:
Alexandria has experienced a net increase in tree canopy, but not all areas have experienced an increase. Removal of large patches of tree canopy due to the construction in the northwest part of the city and wetland restoration in the northeastern part of the city in the southern part of the city resulted in large, localized declines in tree canopy. Loss was also noted in other locations where new commercial properties were built. Even though there was stark evidence of hundreds of trees being removed throughout the city, this loss was offset by natural growth, some from newly planted trees but most from established canopy.
The full assessment is available online.
One of the biggest points of contention in the stream restoration debate was that models, and not actual testing of the streams in question, were being considered in policy discussions. Next week, the city is moving to rectify that.
The city announced in a press release that a consultant will be performing soil collection, sampling, and analysis tests at Taylor Run, Strawberry Run and Lucky Run — three streams being considered for restoration work.
“The field work for all three steams is anticipated to take place the week of July 25, 2021,” the city said in the release. “Additionally, a consultant will be inspecting the previous stream project completed on the downstream portion of Strawberry Run during the Taft Avenue development to document issues that have occurred.”
The city’s plans to reshape the three streams were derailed in April when criticism from civic groups and some environmental experts compelled the City Council to take the plans back to the drawing board and do more testing to get a better idea of pollutant levels in the streams. The outcry centered primarily on Taylor Run, where some like Natural Resources Manager Rod Simmons said preliminary testing of the stream indicated that the phosphate levels in the water were likely significantly lower than models based on out-of-state data.
“The work that will be performed is consistent with direction received from City Council at the April 27, 2021 legislative meeting for staff to perform soil sampling and analysis and collaborate with the Environmental Policy Commission (EPC) on alternatives to natural channel design,” the city said. ”Council instructed staff to pause the planned stream restoration projects at Taylor Run and Strawberry Run for further evaluation, but proceed with Lucky Run while the soil sampling and analysis occurs. This process includes collection and analysis of soil samples to determine soil nutrient concentrations (total nitrogen and total phosphorus) and the bulk density and development of a report describing the effort and potentially recalculating the nutrient reductions using these data.”
The tests are slated to be completed between October and December. Once the information is finalized as a report, the city said that will be available on the city website.
In the heart of the West End, nestled between I-395 and an apartment complex, is a 44-acre park described by NOVA Parks as an “oasis of nature and beauty” — but it’s also a spot Alexandrians may not know exists, let alone have visited.
The Winkler Botanical Preserve (5400 Roanoke Avenue) was created in 1981 to preserve a section of green open space in the middle of the Mark Center development. The park features multiple trails, streams, a private lodge and a waterfall.
With sections of the Mark Center undergoing some redevelopment that aims to make them more publicly accessible, Maya Contreras, principal planner for Alexandria, said in a recent meeting of the Beauregard Design Advisory Committee that one of the aims of redevelopment is to make the park more accessible to the public.
Photo via NOVA Parks/Facebook
The Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources has launched a form to collect data statewide on which birds are being affected, how, and where. The form asks basic location information but also asks residents to identify specific issues, namely whether there’s visible crusting or swelling around the eyes, or if there are neurological problems like head tilting or uncoordinated movement.
Officially, the cause of the widespread bird deaths is unknown, but the elephant in the room is people’s response to the cicada reemergence. It’s been theorized that insecticide left out to kill cicadas has been getting into the bird population, but there’s nothing concrete to confirm that yet.
The Animal Welfare League of Alexandria said the calls have been ongoing since mid-May for sick and injured birds, most commonly grackles and blue jays.
“Eye issues were reported in what otherwise looked like healthy juvenile birds, causing blindness that leads the birds to land and stay on the ground,” the AWLA said. “The AWLA’s Animal Services team are now seeing additional species of birds affected. Other agencies and localities across the region and state are reporting similar issues at this time.”
Our friends from the @VirginiaDWR have recommended that Virginians cease feeding birds and clean feeders and bird baths with a 10% bleach solution.
Report sick or dead birds online:https://t.co/Qd8xKKgemC
— Justin Wilson (@justindotnet) June 14, 2021
⚠️ DON'T use insecticide on cicadas! ⚠️ Remember that many animals, including birds, bats, dogs, and cats, eat cicadas and can get very sick if they ingest insecticide. Help us keep local animals safe and well – the cicadas won't be here for that long, anyway! pic.twitter.com/c2LHN1tDc2
— AWLArlington, VA (@AWLAArlington) May 25, 2021
A week after an accidental discharge from Cameron Run Regional Park contaminated Lake Cook next door, the City of Alexandria said the cleanup process is finished and the lake will be safe for activities like fishing at the end of the week.
“According to the Fire Marshals Office, NOVA Parks has completed the cleanup process with the environmental contractor,” said Kelly Gilfillen, a spokesperson for the city, “[they] are are permitted to resume normal operations of the pool at this time, as it appears they have satisfactorily addressed the obvious issues they were cited for.”
Lake Cook is a designated fishing spot and currently, signs are posted saying that all fishing at the lake should be catch and release only. Gilfillen said the city intends to remove these signs by the end of the week to allow normal fishing activities to resume.
The fish kill in the lake was caused by an excess of chlorine that spilled into Lake Cook when an employee at Cameron Run Regional Park mistakenly used an outdated valve that drained a pool into the nearby water.
“Approximately 60,000 gallons of chlorinated water from the play pool entered the lake over the course of 9 to 12 hours through a piped connection that the operator thought connected directly to the sanitary sewer, rather than the lake facility,” the city said.
The city said approximately 150 fish and one bird were killed due to high chlorine exposure, though an photos from the incident and an ALXnow reporter indicate multiple dead birds at the lake.
Cameron Run Regional Park was issued a notice of violation for the illegal discharge and NOVA Parks told ALXnow the outdated valve will be removed from the park to prevent a future incident.
Cicadas are all the buzz right now, and the city released a quick update with advice for local residents and updating some tree plans to deal with the bugs’ anticipated emergence.
According to the city:
“The City of Alexandria will experience the 17-year cycle of the emergence of millions of the Brood X Cicadas from underground to mate and lay eggs in trees throughout the City now through mid-summer,” the city said in a press release. “The egg laying will be concentrated on smaller diameter twigs and branches. Impacted trees will exhibit clusters of dead leaves and branches that droop and turn brown as their circulation is cut off by the implanted eggs.
The city said that most trees will take unsightly but superficial damage.
“The trees will shed their damaged portions and continue growing,” the city said. “Some trees, particularly young, newly established trees, may succumb to their injuries.”
The city is making a few changes to its normal planting schedule to accommodate. Spring tree plantings will be delayed until the fall to avoid cicada damage, and recently planted trees will be watered to try and boost their health and ability to deal with cicada damage.
The city said it would not be spraying pesticides to deter cicadas, however, and netting won’t be installed on trees.
“While effective, netting is not economical at the municipal scale,” the city said. “Individual property owners should still consider netting as a potential protective measure for small or newly established trees.”
Photo via Shannon Potter/Unsplash
There was a valve in Cameron Run Regional Park that wasn’t meant to be used. But two days ago, it was, and the result was a chemical leak into the adjacent Lake Cook that’s had a fatal effect on the park’s wildlife.
“There are two different pump stations and filter systems at Cameron Run, one for the main wave-pool and one for the shallow children’s pool,” explained Paul Gilbert, Executive Director of the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority (NOVA Parks). “Each system is a little bit different, both designed so they never put chlorinated pool water into the lake.”
But a relic of an earlier, outdated system remained at the park, and an employee mistook it for part of the filtration system.
“Someone who was not as familiar with the system found a valve that would allow them to drain that pool,” Gilbert said. “It’s a valve that hasn’t been used in over 15 years since we put in the new system. They didn’t understand what they were doing, but that pool water went into Lake Cook.”
Gilbert said NOVA Parks staff were on-site yesterday with the city’s fire marshal to examine the impact and figure out what happened.
“We disabled the valve that allowed the pool to be drained,” Gilbert said. “Today, we’re out there with the contractor cleaning up Lake Cook.”
Gilbert said the contamination was a fish kill.
“It’s a small lake, Lake Cook, so it’s an issue of concentration,” Gilbert said. “Right now, we’re focusing on clean up.”
According to Alexandria communications officer Andrea Blackford:
The Fire Marshals Office (FMO) issued a notice of violation for the illegal discharge of approximately 60,000 gallons of pool water that contained a strong odor of chlorine. The FMO also ordered NOVA Waterpark staff to make necessary repairs to the sanitary drains and other drains prior to refilling the pools. Additionally, a notice of violation was issued for the illegal discharge of a blue substance used as a stain on the pool deck.
After reports of dead fish and birds along the banks of Lake Cook, officials have investigated and found high levels of chlorine contaminating the lake.
According to Raytevia Evans, senior public information for the Alexandria Fire Department, a HAZMAT team on site confirmed high levels of chlorination.
“We received notification yesterday evening about a visible fish kill and oil-like substance on Lake Cook” Evans said. “We sent out our HAZMAT team and fire marshal’s office to investigate. They are the ones who responded that there were high levels of chlorination detected.”
Images posted in the Bring Integrity Back to Alexandria Facebook group showed dead herons, catfish and more along the banks of the lake.
The lake is immediately adjacent to Cameron Run Regional Park, a water park planned to reopen this summer.
Staff at Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority said park management is currently on scene as officials continue to investigate.
James Cullum and Vernon Miles contributed to this story. Map via Google Maps
In response to the city’s public information meetings about the Taylor Run Stream Restoration project, local advocacy group Environmental Council of Alexandria (ECA) is hosting its own meeting tomorrow outlining its opposition to the plan.
The city is planning to overhaul the stream’s design to reduce erosion of the banks and cut down on the flow of pollution from the watershed further down the creek into the Potomac River. Critics of the plan, including the city’s own natural resource manager Rod Simmons, have questioned project contractor’s figures on the pollution in the stream and the benefit of the proposed changes.
The city has posted its own Q&A document with lengthy responses to some criticisms of the project.
The ECA is scheduled to host its meeting via Zoom tomorrow (Thursday) at 7 p.m., with attendees able to register online.
“The City claims that the project will impact only a narrow band of forest along the stream that can be restored easily by replanting thousands of young trees and shrubs,” the ECA said. “They continue to say that the project will rejuvenate the stream and the park ecologically, stop stream erosion, protect sanitary infrastructure, and prevent hundreds of pounds of phosphorus and nitrogen each year from reaching the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay. But are any of these claims really true? We don’t think so. Join us for a Zoom presentation on February 25 to find out why.”
The city held a public meeting on January 28 which is viewable online. The project is not scheduled to return to City Council for further approval, although Mayor Justin Wilson said the issue could be revisited in the public hearing phase of budget discussions.
Photo via City of Alexandria
Taylor Run stream in pretty bad shape, but the City of Alexandria wants to revitalize it into a healthy stream rich with native vegetation.
“It’s in the design phase right now,” said Jesse Maines, division chief for Stormwater Management. Maines estimated the design was about halfway completed, but the department is still reaching out to local stakeholders and continuing internal discussions about the eventual design.
The stream starts near T.C. Williams High School and the Chinquapin Recreation Center, then runs parallel to King Street, eventually emptying into Cameron Run.
Maines said the stream has seen severe erosion over the years as new development has funneled ever-increasing amounts of stormwater through the ravine. There are places where the stream’s banks are a nearly 90-degree drop-off. Restoration of the stream will also help improve water quality to meet the Chesapeake Bay cleanup mandates, the city said on its website.
“We’re considering different kinds of techniques,” Maines said. “This isn’t your grandfather’s stream restoration. The main focus back in the day was just stabilizing everything, but now we [use] natural channel techniques. We want to use those techniques that allow vegetation to be established and hold the banks in.”
The new stream restoration efforts aim to make those banks gradual with native vegetation that slows the water and creates ecological stability. As a bonus, a slower stream with native vegetation could also help return more wildlife to the stream, starting with local macroinvertebrates — bugs, for the less scientifically inclined among us — that dwell in calmer pools of water.
Maines said the design for the project is estimated to be completed sometime around spring or summer this year, followed by a few months of paperwork and procurement, with construction activity starting late this year or the beginning of 2021. Once construction starts, Maines says it’s estimated to take about a year to complete.
After the work gets underway, Maines says the biggest impact the community is likely to see is more truck traffic along King Street near the high school. Construction hours are currently scheduled to be 7 a.m.-5 p.m. during the week, though that could change to 9 a.m. to minimize the impact of truck traffic on buses and other school traffic.
The total cost of the project is currently projected at $4.5 million, though this doesn’t include other features that could be incorporated during the design process. That funding is evenly split between a grant from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and matching funding from the city.
The City of Alexandria is scheduled to host a meeting discussing the Taylor Run Stream Restoration project next Thursday (Jan. 16) from 7:30-8:30 p.m. at Douglas MacArthur Elementary School. The meeting will include presentations from the Dept. of Project Implementation and Dept. Transportation and Environmental Services, the city said in a press release, with both departments available to field questions from the public.
Photos via City of Alexandria