MCPS students learn about bioretention gardens

MCPS Bioretention Garden with students
December 18, 2017
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Doug Marshall, a Watershed Planner with the Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection, recently met with the members of the Green Team Club of Newport Mill Middle School to talk about their local waters and pollution.   

Cynthia Nystrom, a teacher at Newport Mill, reached out to DEP and asked if a staff member could visit with her Green Team club and talk about the new bioretention garden that DEP installed at the school this past summer. A bioretention garden is a functioning landscape that filters stormwater and improves water quality. They are typically planted with native plants and have 3 layers:

  • A mulch layer;
  • A soil, sand and organic material mixture layer; and
  • A stone layer. A perforated pipe within the stone layer collects and directs the filtered rainwater from large storms to the storm drain system within 2 days.

The Green Team club meets after school to discuss environmental issues, they also collect all the recycled materials from the school and dispose it in the recycle dumpster.  They do this so they can monitor the amount of recycled materials the school disposes verses the amount of trash that goes into the regular dumpster.  There are twenty kids in the club and they were really excited about the new bioretention at their school. 

I talked with the students about the watershed their school was in and most did not know they were in the Rock Creek watershed. We also talked about the stream closer to their school, which is Josephs Branch, and about the poor condition of that stream. 


Doug Marshall with the students of Newport Mill Middle School

Doug Marshall with the students of Newport Mill Middle School Green Team at their bioretention garden


Our conversation focused on how impervious surfaces, like roads and buildings, affect the the amount of stormwater runoff that enters streams and the impact on stream channels.   Stormwater management practices, like their new bioretention garden, work to help reduce those impacts.  The students and I also talked about how these kinds of practices can be installed on smaller properties like their own homes. 

After the discussion, we all went outside to see the bioretention.  This was by far the most exciting part for the kids.  They really liked getting their hands dirty and feeling the sandy texture of the bioretention soil, which they now know is important to allow water to soak into and through the soil like a sponge.  They were also excited to learn about the different plants in the bioretention and the role that they each play in creating a healthy ecosystem both in the soil (to foster the growth of micro-organisms) and above the soil (to provide habitat for pollinators).   

I think now that they have a better understanding of the bioretention garden and how it works to improve conditions in our streams, they can be ambassadors for the bioretention to other students and help spread the word about environmental stewardship. My hope is that through hands-on learning and open conversation, they will be inspired to do their part to protect their small piece of the watershed and by extension, Rock Creek, the Potomac River and ultimately, the Chesapeake Bay. 

Construction of the bioretention was funded with support from Maryland’s Chesapeake & Atlantic Coastal Bays Trust Fund.

Doug Marshall has been with the County for 21 years and has focused his work on stormwater management and stream protection

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