City of Fairfax Streams

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Streams Map View and/or Download the City of Fairfax Streams Map 

The City of Fairfax has taken an active role in restoring the city’s stream channels. The need for stream channel restoration is a result of the increase in stormwater flows over the years. The main source of this increase is from development in the city. When open areas are developed and paved, the amount of runoff increases because the infiltration capacity of the land is reduced. This water enters the storm drains, which eventually drains to the city’s open stream channels.

Current city regulations require stormwater management for new developments and redevelopment (see City of Fairfax Code). Stormwater management is a means to control excess storm runoff resulting from the development of a site. Stormwater management measures include stormwater management ponds and underground detention vaults to hold excess stormwater so that it can be released at a rate equal to the water leaving the site prior to development. Because much of the city was development prior to the issuance of stormwater management regulations, there is a significant amount of uncontrolled stormwater entering the city’s stream channels. Many of the streams are not able to handle the existing storm flows, which has resulted in severe stream bank erosion and increased sediment loading.

To address the stormwater issues in the city, a Stormwater Capital Needs Study was completed in 1993. The results of this study indicated that citywide stream restoration was recommended to ensure the streams could handle the storm flows without eroding the stream banks. Based on this report, a stormwater bond was proposed and subsequently approved by the voters in 1994. With the availability of funding, a program was initiated in 1994 to stabilize and restore the city stream channels. To date, the city has restored over 4 miles of stream channel. To continue this work, the City Council has set up a stormwater fund to complete the work necessary to restore the remaining eroded stream channels throughout the city.

In the spring of 2002, the city completed stream restoration improvements on the North Fork of Accotink Creek from Stafford Drive to Lee Highway. Design is currently in progress to continue stream restoration improvements from Lee Highway to Pickett Road.

For more information, citizens can refer to the city’s brochure The Accotink Creek Restoration Project and an article that appeared in American City & County titled Restoring Streams Key in City’s Stormwater Work. Other links to stream restoration are:
Restoring Streams Article

The Accotink Creek Restoration Project


What was wrong with Accotink Creek? Why did it need a restoration project?

Accotink Creek, a stream whose headwaters are located within the city limits of Fairfax, has been in trouble for many years from uncontrolled runoff that deepened the creek’s channel, widened the stream, deposited sediment on important aquatic habitat and caused erosion. Many of the fish and other aquatic life, which are important for the Creek’s viability, began to disappear.

Restoring Accotink Creek was necessary to reduce loss of property, restore public safety, stop the destruction of downstream habitat and restore aquatic life native to Fairfax.

What did the City of Fairfax do to restore Accotink Creek? What were the results?

The City of Fairfax implemented an ambitious program to restore Accotink Creek to its natural state by contracting with a team of expert stream restoration biologists, ecologists and engineers who developed special techniques of "bioengineering" to restore the Creek.

The restoration project stabilized the banks of Accotink Creek, stopped erosion in the stream and restored the habitats that previously existed in the stream and along its banks.

What are these "bioengineering" techniques that were used to restore Accotink Creek? How do they work?

Bioengineering is the analysis, application and use of natural structures to help repair, restore or stabilize sensitive habitats. The three main bioengineering techniques that you can see at work along Accotink Creek are root wads, biologs and riparian reforestation. These techniques are defined in the glossary section.

What you should NOT DO if you want to help protect Accotink Creek...

* Never cut your lawn shorter than 1.5 inches.

* Do not apply fertilizers and pesticides indiscriminately. These chemicals are harmful to aquatic life and often are unnecessary.

* Never put oil, gasoline, paint or other toxic substances into storm drains. Everything that enters a storm drain in the Accotink Creek watershed goes into the Creek sooner or later.

...never forget that the watershed starts in your backyard!

What you can DO to help keep Accotink Creek a viable, usable, ecologically sound waterway...

Everyone who lives in the watershed of Accotink Creek has an impact on the quality of the Creek’s habitats.

* Consider alternatives to grass as a lawn cover. Wildflowers or clover meadows make attractive and less ecologically damaging lawn covers.

* Keep the grass in your lawn at least 1.5 inches long. Taller grass actually reduces weed growth and is better at retaining soil moisture.

* Consider planting more trees around your house. Trees near Accotink Creek protect the stream, and trees will benefit you by providing more shade, adding to your house’s value and reducing lawn mowing time.

* Only fertilize and apply pesticides to your lawn and garden when absolutely necessary. There usually is no need to apply fertilizers and pesticides regularly to lawn turf.

* Contact your extension agent for information on the best grasses to plant and how to use chemicals appropriately.

...always remember that the watershed starts in your backyard!


Here are definitions of some terms used in discussing the Accotink Creek restoration project:

Aquatic Habitat: A place in or upon water where a plant or animal grows or lives.

Biologs: Rolls of coconut fiber used to stabilize the bottom of steep slopes along Accotink Creek where the movement of water against the soil can hamper the growth of new vegetation. Biologs, which are planted with native perennial plants that grow quickly and strongly, provide the conditions and protection that plants need to become established. Biologs will decompose and the new plants naturally will stabilize the stream banks.

Ecology: The study of the relationships among and between animals, plants and their environments.

Riparian Reforestation: All along the banks of Accotink Creek, you will see newly planted trees and shrubs. This new vegetation will slow runoff, provide habitat for wildlife and provide shade and cooling for organisms living in the stream.

Root Wads: Roots from dead trees, which usually would have been discarded or destroyed, have been placed along the eroding outside bends of Accotink Creek to deflect the water from the bare soils along the bank. This provides natural cover for aquatic organisms and provides a growing medium for new vegetation that will grow in and around these root wads to provide natural stabilization for a long time.

Runoff: Water that is unable to soak into the ground will flow over land until it can be absorbed by the ground or flow into a stream channel. Runoff often causes erosion and carries sediment that will end up in the stream.

Watershed: Accotink Creek’s drainage area.


Funding for the restoration of Accotink Creek is provided by the City of Fairfax Bond and Stormwater Funds and by a Chesapeake Bay Habitat Restoration Grant.


For more information on what you can do to help the Accotink Creek restoration, call 703.273.3067 or write:
Christina Alexander
Public Works
10455 Armstrong Street
Fairfax, VA 22030

The Accotink Creek USGS Water Quality Gauging Station


Accotink Creek Station Accotink Creek Station Accotink Creek Station

This station collects water samples during storms which are then analyzed in the lab by the United States Geological Survey (USGS). The USGS is a federal science organization that, in part, ‘provides impartial information on the health of our ecosystems and environment’. This station also records data such as temperature and pH around the clock and periodically sends it back to USGS servers via satellite transmissions.

Accotink Creek, a stream whose headwaters are located within the City of Fairfax, receives a high volume of uncontrolled runoff during storm events. To combat the erosive storm flows the City of Fairfax implemented an ambitious program to restore Accotink Creek to its natural state by contracting with a team of expert stream restoration biologists, ecologists and engineers who developed special techniques of "bioengineering" to restore the Creek. Goals of the restoration project were to stabilize the banks of Accotink Creek, stop erosion in the stream, and restore the habitats that previously existed in the stream and along its banks. The study that the USGS is now conducting in partnership with the city of Fairfax seeks to evaluate the effectiveness of stream restoration in meeting those goals, and, in general, understand the processes within the stream that impact water quality and ecosystem health. Funding and monitoring for this station are provided by the USGS.

To view real time data from the Accotink Creek gauging station visit the USGS website at

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