Our Work

Conservation

Photo: ©Philip Bogdan

What Can I Do to Preserve and Restore the Creek?

Homeowners can not only improve the water quality of Little Hunting Creek, the Potomac River and the Chesapeake Bay, but also create beautiful native plantings that attract birds, butterflies, and beneficial wildlife, and perhaps even receive generous tax credits.

First, Do No Harm!

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ONLY water down the storm drain

  • Pet waste adds fecal coliforms to the creekand should be disposed of in the trash, never down a storm drain.
  • Leaves, yard waste and grass clippings should never be dumped in the creek or storm drains; they pollute the creek with nitrogen and deplete its oxygen.
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Report All Storm Drain Dumping

  • To report someone dumping hazardous substances like paint or pesticides down a storm drain, call Fairfax Co. Fire and Rescue at 703-691-2131.
  • To report large amounts of trash, garbage or litter that have been illegally dumped or collected in a place not designated or intended as a trash disposal site, please contact Fairfax County at 703-324-5230.
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Respect the buffer

  • Land within 100 feet of Little Hunting Creek is most likely in the Resource Protection Area (RPA), protected by Fairfax County’s Chesapeake Bay Preservation Ordinance. Activities in the RPA are regulated by Fairfax County, as described here.
  • Do not remove trees, grade, or disturb the land within this buffer.
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Use Creek-Friendly Lawn CAre

  • Fertilizer from lawns is a major source of pollution. Stormwater runoff carries nitrogen and phosphorous into the creek and causes algae growth and reduces water clarity. It causes “dead zones” in the Chesapeake Bay where oxygen is depleted and fish cannot survive.
  • Test before fertilizing. If your lawn doesn’t need phosphorus (and most Northern Virginia lawns don’t) don’t add it, use a phosphorous-free fertilizer.
  • Use less or no fertilizer by mowing high with a sharp blade and leaving grass clippings on the lawn. They supply up to 1/3 of the nitrogen needs of a lawn.
  • Consult the Chesapeake Bay Foundation for useful advice about Bay-friendly yard care.
  • Best of all: reduce or eliminate lawn, and replace it with native plants and trees.

Water Quality

As Fairfax County developed, its forests were replaced with fields, and then with houses, streets, shopping malls, and other impervious surfaces which increased stormwater runoff.

This was piped directly into streams such as Little Hunting Creek. The increased runoff brought pollutants into the creek and eroded its stream banks and beds, resulting in poor water quality.

Reduce runoff

  • Reduce the volume of stormwater runoff leaving your property by installing a rain garden or rain barrel
  • Replace lawn (“green asphalt”), which does not absorb runoff, with native trees and plants that do absorb it.

Make sure the water flowing into the creek is clean

  • Reduce or eliminate use of fertilizer and pesticides
  • Pick up pet waste
  • Don’t dump anything down the storm drain or into the water
  • Don’t litter!

Protect wetlands

Wetlands are nature’s way of cleaning, slowing, and absorbing water. They protect shorelines from flooding and help absorb their impact. Wetlands also provide habitat, food, and shelter for the diverse range of animals and plants that make up the freshwater tidal ecosystem of Little Hunting Creek.

Because intact wetlands are such an important part of the ecosystem, they are protected by law. Do not disturb or remove any wetlands soils or plants or install any structures without a permit from the Fairfax County Wetlands Board. You can learn more here

Head cuts (highly eroded stream banks) are created by high volumes and velocities of stormwater runoff.
Wetland provide habitat, food and shelter to resident wildlife and are protected by law.

Buffers and Open Space

The land bordering a stream affects its water quality.

A vegetated buffer slows down stormwater runoff, filters pollutants, stabilizes stream banks, removes sediment, and removes nitrogen and phosphorous from surface flows and groundwater. In a forested buffer, tree roots remove nitrogen and the tree canopy moderates water temperature, which is critical to fish.

Because of the importance of stream buffers for the Chesapeake Bay’s water quality, they are legally protected by Virginia law. Buffers within 100 feet of streams are designated as Resource Protection Areas, and are protected by the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Ordinance.

Protect and restore stream buffers

  • Don’t mow the buffer, especially the 25 feet closest to the stream. The area adjacent to the stream is especially sensitive to potentially harmful activity such as chemical use or excessive removal of vegetation.
  • Don’t remove existing native understory vegetation or trees.
  • Do remove exotic invasive plants, such as English ivy, that overtop, outcompete, and kill native trees and plants—but removing any vegetation within the buffer area first requires permission from Fairfax County.
  • Don’t install structures or paved surfaces without approval from Fairfax County. This is a violation of the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Ordinance, and you may be required to remove them when the county finds out.
  • If it is not vegetated, plant the buffer area with native plants, including trees, shrubs, wildflowers, and grasses. The wider the area planted, the better it is for wildlife and water quality. You do not need approval to plant native plants.

Preserve riparian buffers

  • Vegetated riparian buffers can be preserved in perpetuity by placing a conservation easement on them.  There are tax advantages too. Here is more information.
Riparian buffer loss due to high-velocity stormwater
Vegetated buffers protect streambanks from excessive erosion – and they are beautiful!

Habitat

Little Hunting Creek is home to many species of birds, fish, and other wildlife. 

Its freshwater tidal marshland and adjacent forests provide nesting and foraging habitat for Bald eagles, Ospreys, and Herons.  It provides a corridor for wildlife passage from its headwaters in Huntley Meadows Park to the Potomac River, just north of the Mount Vernon estate.

You can expand the habitat the creek provides by creating habitat in your own yard.

Remove invasive plants from your yard

Invasive vines like English ivy, Wintercreeper, Japanese honeysuckle, Asian bittersweet, and Porcelainberry grow up trees, kill them, and can bring them down, creating a hazard.  Non-native plants do not support native insects, an essential part of the food chain.  Exotic invasive plants spread beyond yards to overwhelm natural areas and create a food desert for wildlife.

Plant native shrubs, trees and understory plants to provide layers of habitat

There is a huge range of beautiful, low-maintenance native plants and trees to choose from. Plant NoVA Natives is an excellent resource for getting started.

Make your yard a real functioning wildlife sanctuary

Learn more about creating beneficial habitat that supports birds and other wildlife in your yard with the Audubon at Home program.

If you live in Arlington, Alexandria, Fairfax, Prince William, Loudoun, Fauquier, or Rappahannock Counties, you can request a free visit from an Audubon at Home Ambassador, who can explore your yard with you and advise you how to enhance its value as wildlife habitat. 

Landscaping for wildlife means adopting healthy yard practices that protect water quality in Little Hunting Creek and other Northern Virginia streams. Wildlife requires clean water.

Creative Conservation:

Build a Rain Garden

This low-maintenance landscape feature catches and filters runoff and allows it to soak into the ground.

Reduce stormwater runoff from your rooftop and driveway, and find other creative and money-saving uses for it. The gutters, downspouts, and storm drains that surround us were designed to remove rainwater as quickly as possible and dump it in the creek. The high volume and speed of that runoff scours out the stream in its upper reaches, and brings sediment and pollutants down the creek into the Potomac and the Bay; a rain garden can help slow and filter that runoff.

Little Hunting Creek Watershed Management Plan

Background

In 2002, Fairfax County began developing management plans for each of its 30 watersheds. Its purposes were to restore and protect the county’s streams, of which 70% are in fair to very poor condition, support Virginia’s commitment to the Chesapeake 2000 Agreement, and meet state and federal regulatory requirements.

According to the Fairfax County Stream Protection Strategy, Little Hunting Creek was one of the five watersheds in the poorest condition in the county. It was the first watershed for which a plan was developed.

The Little Hunting Creek Watershed Management Plan was adopted by the Board of Supervisors on February 7, 2005.

Plan Implementation

The plan is now in the implementation phase. When fully implemented, the plan will reduce the stormwater runoff peak flows in the primary tributaries, reduce nutrient loadings in the streams, and improve the stream habitat. A quick overview of Fairfax County’s approach is presented in this video. Currently active and completed projects are listed here and shown on this map.

Provisions of the Plan

The plan calls for the county to:

  • Facilitate and provide technical assistance to homeowners for projects, such as rain barrels, rain gardens, and cisterns, to reduce stormwater runoff from their properties; build demonstration projects of “low impact development” (LID) techniques.
  • Where possible, build new stormwater facilities, and improve and better maintain existing ones.
  • Restore riparian buffers by planting native plants and trees adjacent to streams.
  • Restore streams to reduce erosion and improve aquatic habitat.
  • Conserve critical wetlands areas through land purchase or conservation easements, and restore wetlands where suitable.
  • Identify sources of fecal coliform and illicit discharges (e.g., paint or toxic chemicals) and take actions to stop them.
  • Investigate sources and extent of chlordane and PCB contamination, and develop a plan to remediate it.
  • Clean up trash and remove dumpsites.
  • Sweep up and reuse sand used for traction control in icy road conditions. Limit use of de-icing materials that impair water quality.
  • Provide incentives to developers to reduce the amount of impervious surface on developments. Make it easier for them get county approval to use improved LID technologies.
  • Require greater reductions in runoff from commercial and residential redevelopment sites, and in road widening projects.
  • Give the county the authority to inspect private stormwater control facilities, and to require property owners to maintain them.
  • Not waive water quality controls for non-bonded lots with more than 18% impervious surface.
  • Adopt green building approaches and landscaping with native plants and trees at all public facilities in the watershed.
  • Evaluate how the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Ordinance is enforced and applied, to determine if riparian buffers are being adequately preserved and protected.

We need your help!

All of our efforts depend on our network of volunteers. Join us to make an impact on the creek.

Help us remove invasives, clean up trash, write an article for our newsletter…the opportunities are endless!

Join Us!

Friends of Little Hunting Creek is a grassroots, volunteer-led organization that began as a group of genuinely concerned neighbors living near the creek.

We need your help to protect this beautiful place – join us today!

Our vision is a beautiful, healthy creek that supports wildlife living in it and along its shores, and provides recreation and respite to humans that live nearby. We envision a shared sense of community responsibility for the health of the Little Hunting Creek watershed and appreciation for its beauty.

Photo: ©Philip Bogdan