As storms continue to wash trash, construction debris, tree limbs and leaves into the suburban streams throughout Fairfax County, a program
was developed by officials to clean up the streams while providing a paycheck to those in need.
This program, called “Operation Stream Shield,” is a partnership between the Department of Public Works and Environmental Services and the Office to Prevent and End Homelessness to benefit the environment and provide a paycheck for individuals experiencing homelessness. “It’s a win-win-win,” said Sharon North, spokesperson for Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services.
The county teams up with people from the Eleanor U. Kennedy Community Shelter, Bailey’s Crossroads Community Shelter, and The Lamb Center to go out to the streams a total of eight trips a week to clean the streams. The participants are then paid for their work, and on several occasions, it has led to a regular or seasonal job for those who needed it.
“We have a lot of debris pulled from the streams,” said Emily Burton of the Stormwater Planning Division at the Fairfax County Department of Public Works.
Burton said the program idea came from Albuquerque, New Mexico. “We modeled it very closely with their program,” she said. Fairfax County started their pilot program in October 2019, and kicked off the program in May 2020.
They also rely on contact with the various “Friends of ...” stream groups to work out the particulars. In the Mount Vernon area, they work with Friends of Little Hunting Creek and Friends of the Dyke Marsh, and in Springfield, they are working with the Friends of Accotink Creek group.
From the Friends of Accotink Creek, Philip Latasa has seen the benefits from working with the teams at Operation Stream Shield.
“We as Friends of Accotink Creek greatly appreciate the effort Fairfax County is putting into removing unsightly and harmful trash from our streams as well as removing some of the ubiquitous noxious exotic invasive plant species that are overwhelming so many of our parks,” Latasa said. He noted that the work can be hard in difficult terrain and weather, but the participants are clearly motivated to get the job done. “It is a clear win for all parties that this program also gives dignity and income to shelter residents, helping many to return to self-supporting status over time,” Latasa said.
The county has a “litter hotspots,” map to help teams locate places that need help. In Springfield, for example, one hot spot for litter is Lake Mercer along South Run, and another is on Accotink Creek just south of Fullerton Road. These spots are marked with an X on the map.
Over in Mount Vernon, there are spots along Little Hunting Creek and Paul Spring Branch, west of Hollin Hills. On the map, there is also the ability to report litter spots that are encountered.
Non-Native Plant Removal
One part of the Operation Stream Shield deals with non-native plant species that are at the streams and causing problems for the trees and native plants that grow along the banks. The county has a video on their website created by the Fairfax County Park Authority to identify the non-native, invasive species that are encountered at the streams. Although kudzu and ivy seem to be the main culprits, the video helps identify others like Japanese Barberry, Porcelain Berry, Mile a Minute vine and Oriental Bittersweet to name a few. The video shows how to identify the plants, how to cut and pull them down, and tools needed to accomplish this.