Planting Street Trees for a Cleaner Chesapeake Bay

A healthy street tree canopy in inland communities can impact the water quality of the Chesapeake Bay.

A recent Chesapeake Bay Foundation report indicates that the Bay “became more polluted last year for the first time in a decade.” That’s despite the fact that the Chesapeake is protected by one of the most comprehensive interstate environmental plans ever: the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, signed in 2014 after more than three decades of groundwork. How do we explain this unexpected development? Because with climate change has come increased, and increasingly erratic, rainfall events. With these more infrequent, higher-volume rains, more pollution ends up getting swept from farms and city streets into rivers and streams.

So what can designers like us—and the communities we work with—do about the situation? First and foremost, we can keep that water out of our waterways until it has either been soaked up by vegetation or cleaned of its pollutants, especially excess nitrogen. That means investing in biological infrastructure like street trees, which sources like the local Baltimore Ecosystem Study and the national EPA have recommended for years. Not only do street trees slow, sink and spread storm water—and by sink, we mean that the water is allowed to percolate into the soil, rather than run over its surface—they also provide dozens of other co-benefits, like urban heat island mitigation, crime reduction, and even improved birth outcomes!

NDC’s Right Tree, Right Place program works with communities in Prince George’s County to educate them on the benefits of street trees and help grow their urban tree canopies.

These are some of the many reasons why the Neighborhood Design Center partners with Prince George’s County’s Department of Public Works & Transportation on its Right Tree, Right Place program. We reach out to potentially interested communities—prioritizing those with large numbers of hazardous trees and/or low existing urban tree canopy—and then help the county plant as many as 5,000 trees per year. We hope to thereby grow Prince George’s County’s urban tree canopy, for the benefit of all of its residents.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Right Tree, Right Place program, feel free to reach out to Yasha Magarik, RTRP Program Coordinator, at, or 301-850-1462.