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Restoring Watts Branch

A public meeting last week kicked off an extensive county study of the 22-mile-long Watts Branch and the 65 smaller watersheds that feed into it.

The quality of the water in Watts Branch is of central importance to WSSC in providing drinking water to more than 1 million customers.

Watts Branch crosses North Potomac, cuts through Potomac about four miles west of Potomac Village, entering the Potomac River immediately above the intake pipe for the water filtration plant on River Road.

Watts Branch watershed is environmentally sensitive, with high quality compared to most streams in Montgomery County.

“I live right in it and am aware of how much sediment comes down, but I also concerned with ways we go about restoration in stream valleys,” said Ginny Barnes, Potomac environmentalist who attended the meeting. “There's a lot of sensitive habitat. …It's a very narrow stream valley as you well know.”

About 30 people attended the Thursday, June 20 meeting at Robert Frost Middle School, which was hosted by The Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection.

County officials acknowledge that stream restoration is a complicated business.

“Stream restoration is half engineering, half art. It's still evolving, we're still learning a lot,” said Cameron Wiegand, chief of the Watershed Management Division of the Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection.

The study, which will take more than a year, will include an extensive evaluation of the health of the stream, including trees and buffer, erosion, how stormwater flows into the stream, and sediment, among other things. The study will give environmental engineers the ability to identify areas in the watershed in need of stormwater management or stream restoration measures.

Current environmental planners have learned that some stream restoration practices in the 1970s and 1980s actually did some harm to the health of watersheds.

“It's going to be a long job developing an inventory. It took 30-50 years to mess up the watershed, it's going to take some time to bring it back,” said Daniel Harper, senior engineer with the Watershed Management Division of the Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection.

After the study is complete, the county will undertake a variety of restoration efforts, with opportunity for volunteer projects and public input.

Contact Scott Randall, watershed planner with MCDEP, at scott@askdep.com or 240-777-7712.