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The Potomac Conservancy is right now releasing its second annual “State of the Nation’s River” report. Not that there’s tons of suspense on the tenor of the nonprofit’s findings:
Pollution from a hardened landscape has become the Potomac region’s fastest-growing water quality problem, threatening the health of the waters from which 86 percent of the region’s residents get their drinking water.
That hardened landscape, of course, comes from paving over our region. Everywhere you look, someone’s got a steamroller, a fleet of heavy machinery, and tons and tons of asphalt. They shovel the asphalt onto the ground and then steamroll it all, creating pavement. Eventually it rains, and unfiltered stormwater runs off the pavement and into our streams and rivers, screwing up everything.
I could, at this point, create a comprehensive database of the most egregious pave-over jobs in recent years. But why do that when you can just bloviate about the Potomac Yard Retail Center.
You know, the place that has made Route 1 a parking lot. A parking lot, that is, right next to another parking lot. Potomac Yard Retail Center has 589,856 square feet of store space.
Now, to serve such an expanse of big-box stores, you gotta have some parking. That’s where the pavement comes in. Take it from former Washington City Paper staff writer Stephanie Mencimer, who wrote in 2000, “…with more than 3,500 parking spaces, the strip mall is built to SUV specifications. The big parking lot accommodates the big cars required to cart out the big bundles of toilet paper, dog food, and tennis balls that can be bought here by the gross.”
Those 3,500 spaces are bad for us. Take it from an expert: “Nature absorbs a lot of stormwater, which is why you can walk through a forest in a rain storm and barely get wet. So the next frontier is bringing nature back into urban areas. Doing so will also create hundreds of green-collar jobs, which will help residents improve their neighborhoods and build a better future.”
Sounds like a good plan, though I am wondering just how we’re going to retrofit the Potomac Yard parking lot with nature. Maybe throw some dirt out there, plant some trees between Shoppers and the Sports Authority. Maybe Del Ray citizens would like to throw in a garden alongside the Target or something.
Of course, any such modifications would amount to blemishes on what one neighborhood critic, in Mencimer’s piece, called “a monument to the cheaper laundry basket.”