Anna Buckley, Water Resources Program Coordinator, assesses the health of streams in the Bull Run Watershed. Culverts, the pipes that channel natural streams and roadside ditches under roads, are Buckley’s major point of emphasis.
There are approximately 1,850 culverts within the Watershed, and many of them haven’t been inspected in more than 20 years. Inspecting them is a labor of love for Buckley, who has to stay nimble as she makes her way up and down steep embankments to check on the culvert condition.
“To do the inspecting you need to look in the pipe and at the stream above and below the culvert, the road embankments can get really steep,” Buckley said. “There’s usually a lot of things to trip over. Animals will dig holes so you’re always watching your step not to trip. There’s tons of native, thorny bushes and you’re whacking your way down to the culvert.
If you’re not out there checking on them to see if they’re getting clogged, or if they’re at risk for failure, there could be real consequences to our drinking water quality. Free-flowing streams are also vital for the species that live in the streams.”
Going into this spring, Buckley’s goal was to perform more culvert inspections with a bigger crew of interns, then COVID-19 hit and her plans, briefly, were in jeopardy. The Water Bureau then created a series of safety procedures for staff entering the Watershed, Buckley quickly got to work.
“I recruited Mieke Vrijmoet, our Environmental Data Analyst, and Michaels Goins, a Civil Engineer, we split up into three solo teams and ended up collecting more than three times the amount of data we normally do.
The inspections started in April and just wrapped up in October after six months. When COVID was so new, it was kind of eerie going into the Watershed. Then you see all the big trees, and you feel soothed. It was really nice.”
Buckley, who works under the Bureau’s Resource Protection Group, will now work on compiling all the data to determine where the biggest needs are within the Watershed’s system of culverts. That will help the Road Core Team get a better sense of where the risks are, and to prioritize projects that will most effectively reduce that risk.