By Adrienne West
In early February, sheen from a Dominion Power substation oil leak glossed over the Potomac River at Crystal City and traveled down, coating everything along the banks in Alexandria and farther south. The leak was cleaned up, and the affected waterfowl were rehabilitated and released back into their sanctuary. This recent environmental concern highlights issues being addressed by experts in the area and renews interest in upcoming Earth Day events.
To get a sense of NoVA’s environmental standing, we spoke to Dr. Dann Sklarew, an associate professor and the associate director of the Potomac Environmental Research and Education Center at George Mason University. Sklarew says the biggest ongoing challenges are adapting to a changing climate and remaining sensitive to our surroundings. “The focus [of environmental groups] has been preserving the historical diversity and bounty of the Chesapeake Bay and the Potomac River.” He adds that keeping the Occoquan River clean is also important because it provides the drinking water for many Northern Virginians, and we need to ensure an “effective habitat for the fish and wildlife.” He notes that the governments on both sides of the river have made strides in reducing greenhouse gas emissions that affect our air quality.
Sklarew suggests a few ways to make a positive impact on the environment and your wallet. One is using barrels to catch rainfall from downspouts to use when watering plants and washing your car. He says that it would take about 12 rain barrels to collect the rainfall each year for a house of 1,000 square feet. Installing a solar hot water heater is another option; the initial cost would be recouped within several years. LED lightbulbs are a cost-effective upgrade for homeowners as well. Moreover, he encourages people to go to one of the many Earth Day events coming up at GMU and the NoVA area.
Started in 1970 by Sen. Gaylord Nelson, Earth Day is officially celebrated on April 22 by over 1 billion people in almost 200 countries. There are several events throughout the month where you can take part in environmental awareness and cleanup:
School Environmental Action
Showcase April 6, 9 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
GMU and NoVA Outside, an alliance of environmental educators, host School Environmental Action Showcase, a regional event that brings together more than 40 schools and focuses on the green efforts the students are making in their schools and communities. // GMU Center for the Arts, Fairfax
Potomac River Watershed Cleanup
April 16, 9 a.m.-noon
The 28th annual Potomac River Watershed Cleanup is the largest regional event of its kind, engaging leaders and citizens from communities on both sides of the river. Last year more than 24,000 volunteers at over 800 sites gathered over 1.2 million pounds of garbage. // Multiple locations throughout NoVA
April 30, all day
Fairfax County’s official Earth Day and Arbor Day event is filled with free family-friendly events, educational workshops, vendors and kids activities, including a film festival on restoration projects. Food trucks and a plant sale will satisfy your hunger and your green thumb. // Workhouse Arts Center, Lorton
Alexandria Earth Day 2016
April 30, 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
Alexandria Earth Day 2016 will showcase the theme “Choose to Reuse–Your Choices Matter.” Educational exhibits and demonstrations will be included, as well as family-friendly hands-on activities. Don’t miss the Upcycling Showcase of student interpretations of Earth Day through various artistic forms. // Braddock Park, Alexandria
Go Gaga for Green 2016
April 30, 5-8 p.m.
This family-friendly communitywide event benefits three environmental programs run by GMU and Arlington and showcases Operation Rain Barrel and the Arlington Green Patriot Awards, recognizing leaders of sustainability in the community. // GMU Founders Hall, Arlington