Blue Spotlight On: The Anacostia Watershed

June 8, 2018
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This is the first in an upcoming series where we put the “Blue Spotlight” on a local watershed. You’ll get a quick look at this watershed and some of the challenges and opportunities to keep it healthy.

About the Anacostia Watershed

The 176 square mile Anacostia watershed spans Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties and the District of Columbia. Montgomery County is home to four tributaries that flow into the Anacostia River:

  • Sligo Creek
  • Northwest Branch
  • Paint Branch
  • Little Paint Branch.

Rainwater that falls within this watershed finds its way downhill into these streams, which flow into the mainstem of the Anacostia River and ultimately the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay.



The Anacostia is one of Montgomery County’s most heavily developed watersheds and much of this development took place prior to stormwater management regulations. DEP and other organizations have gone back into these neighborhoods in recent years to install stormwater management practices in neighborhoods throughout the watershed and have restored many impacted streams.

The State of Maryland lists the Anacostia River Watershed as impaired, with damage caused by excessive nutrients, sediment, trash, bacteria, and polychlorinated biphenyls or PCB’s.

DEP is required to clean up the County’s portion of the watershed and lower the amounts of these pollutants entering our waterways. Restoration projects, RainScapes practices, street sweeping, and tree planting all help DEP reach these goals.


Cleanup in the Anacostia River

Volunteer picks up trash during a stream cleanup along Bucknell Drive.


Restoration Highlights

Montgomery County DEP has completed over 70 watershed restoration projects in the Anacostia watershed, including:

  • 5 new stormwater management ponds
  • 16 stormwater management pond retrofits
  • 8 Green Streets neighborhoods
  • 347 individual rain gardens, bioretentions, and tree boxes
  • 28 stream restoration projects for a total of 16 miles of restored Anacostia tributaries
  • 425 Rainscapes rebates issued for residential stormwater practices
  • 5 acres of new forest planted


Hollywood Branch Stream Restoration

Hollywood Branch Stream Restoration – 4,470 feet of stream restoration north of Cannon Road Elementary School in Colesville


Year of the Anacostia

2018 has been designated the Year of the Anacostia. Agencies and watershed partners have planned a series of volunteer events, river cleanups, and educational opportunities throughout the year in celebration of restoration and historic milestones in the Anacostia.

Did you know? The Anacostia River was designated by the State of Maryland as a “Scenic and Wild River” in 1984.


Breewood Tributary

Breewood, a restored tributary of Sligo Creek and the Anacostia River


Recreational Opportunities

Montgomery County offers many recreational opportunities in the headwaters of the Anacostia River. The streamside and floodplain habitat on Sligo Creek, Northwest Branch, and Paint Branch are protected by M-NCPCC parkland where citizens can hike, bike, and enjoy these headwater streams. A few highlights include:


Northwest Gorge – Northwest Branch Stream Valley Park at Burnt Mills

Northwest Gorge – Northwest Branch Stream Valley Park at Burnt Mills


Volunteer Opportunities

Volunteer with DEP

Join a Watershed Group:


Five volunteers standing next to all the trash they picked up from a stormwater facility.


More Photos of the Anacostia Watershed


Dennis Avenue Green Streets

Students from DEP’s 2017 National Green Infrastructure Certification Program explore a bioswale off Lanark Way at the Dennis Avenue Green Streets project.


NIH Stormwater Management Pond in Bethesda.

NIH Stormwater Management Pond in Bethesda.


A RainScapes rain garden installed in the Anacostia watershed. DEP’s RainScapes program offers technical and financial assistance to encourage property owners to implement stormwater projects on their properties. Projects include rain gardens, conservation landscapes, rain barrels, green roofs, and permeable pavers. Find out more here.


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