Blog Post By Jona Elwell

Roots to Rivers: We All Play a Part

This year the Canopy Awards is about more than just raising funds for our programs, we want to shed light on how we are all interconnected. A healthy, robust tree canopy captures and filters rainwater before it enters the drainage system, reducing polluting overflows into the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers and increasing our city’s resilience to the effects of climate change. Rivers provide a steady source of water for trees to grow and stay healthy. Sustainable, resilient cities are built on the mutually beneficial relationship between rivers and trees. Roots to Rivers is our chance to amplify and accelerate our collective efforts.

Riparian (river associated) trees are critical to healthy waterways and rivers are critical to trees:

  • Many animals and insects are dependent on trees for shelter, protection, and breeding. Mayflies need trees to rest and to metamorphose into the final breeding stage of their lifecycle, trout use overhanging branches and tree roots to hide from predators, birds that hunt aquatically nest in riparian trees and fish that travel upstream often rest in the calm pools created by fallen trees.
  • Believe it or not, trees help feed aquatic animals! The woody material and leaves that fall into a river provide important nutrients and food for small organisms which become food to trout and birds.
  • Shade is critical for the health of our waterways. Fish species, such as trout and salmon, are sensitive to changes in water temperature and will only lay their eggs in cool water. Too much shade can be a problem in suppressing growth of aquatic plants, but a mix of dappled light and shade provided from a tree’s canopy is ideal.
  • Trees serve as natural sponges. This is critical for a number of reasons.
    • Riverside trees build an important buffer zone between the city and the river. A robust canopy captures and filters rainwater before it enters the drainage system, reducing polluting overflows into the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers.
    • The roots of vegetation, including trees, reduce erosion and help slow a river’s flow, increasing our city’s resilience to the effects of climate change, like intense flooding.
  • Tree cover has been directly linked to drinking water treatment costs, so the more canopy in a watershed, the lower the cost to treat that water. By filtering sediments and other pollutants from the water in the soil before it reaches a water source, ultimately saving us money.

Clearly, Roots to Rivers is not just about the trees. D.C. cannot have a robust canopy and ignore waterways. Similarly, D.C. cannot have healthy, thriving rivers without a healthy, thriving urban forest. By restoring our tree canopy and increasing the health of our waterways, we’re ensuring our city can thrive in the face of change – both natural and manmade.

Just as trees and rivers are connected, we too are deeply inspired by, thankful for, and championed by the efforts of our partners in crime – local nonprofits that are committed to making the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers they best they can be. As city dwellers, we are all in this together. Let’s celebrate all we can do together. See you at the Sixth Annual Canopy Awards, held on Arbor Day Eve, Thursday, April 25!


The Canopy Awards is made possible by generous financial and in-kind contributions from our sponsors.

Thanks to the sponsors that make this event possible:
Elm – Major Sponsor: Clearstead Advisors
Sycamore – Associate Sponsors: American Technology Service (ATS) | Greater Greater Washington | Washington Blade | Washington City Paper
River Birch – Ally: LimnoTech | Pitchford Associates

Want to make a greater commitment to re-treeing D.C.? Become a Canopy Awards sponsor! There are multiple levels of support to choose from, so find the one that works best for you by viewing all our sponsorship levels.

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