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Cabin John Creek Watershed

The Cabin John watershed joins the Potomac River, above Lock 7 of the C&O Canal.

The watershed has been significantly impacted by suburban development. The Interstate 495/270 corridor passes through the central part of the watershed, and commercial and high-density residential development is common. Rockville Pike and the City of Rockville occupy the headwaters of Cabin John and high development has affected Cabin John’s eastern tributaries. In contrast, the western tributaries transition to low-density residential communities with far less commercial development.

Map of the County with the Cabin John Creek Watershed highlighted

Stormwater in the Watershed

Uncontrolled stormwater runoff in the Cabin John watershed has resulted in seriously impaired habitat throughout the watershed.

  • Stream channels have grown deeper and wider at a faster rate. This leads to loose and toppled trees.
  • Exposed sanitary sewer lines, in many cases originally buried 10-20 feet below the bottom of stream channels, are a common occurrence in the Cabin John watershed. Repair of these systems is costly and requires temporary construction impacts on the stream system.
  • Excessive erosion.

Like many down-County watersheds, this area developed before environmental regulations for stream buffers and stormwater management went into effect, so on-site stormwater runoff controls are uncommon in the Cabin John watershed. The mainstem of Cabin John Creek is within the County's stream valley park system, and the western tributaries benefit to some extent from parkland buffers, particularly Buck Branch. However, drainage from developed areas has had a detrimental effect on habitat quality and stream conditions in the mainstem of Cabin John Creek.

Several regional stormwater control facilities are located in the watershed, including ponds controlling drainage from Montgomery Mall, the office parks at Democracy Blvd. and I-270, and several headwater areas in the upper watershed. These ponds treat runoff from only a small part of the highly developed areas of the watershed.

Despite the overall fair/poor quality of the stream conditions in Cabin John, three remaining tributaries—Buck Branch, Ken Branch and the Congressional Tributary—maintain a good stream condition. These tributaries support a diverse community of sensitive fish species. The presence of this fish community is reassuring evidence that polluted runoff has not become a chronic problem in these tributaries and that habitat still provides adequate cover to support the fish and benthic macroinvertebrate (stream bug) community.

To help address the chronic problems associated with urban stream degradation in Cabin John, development of a watershed restoration action plan began in 1999 to identify goals and target capital improvement projects and stream restoration needs. An implementation plan was also developed in 2010 to address impacts from stormwater and identify restoration opportunities.

► Cabin John Creek Watershed Implementation Plan (PDF, 2.51MB)


Image of Booze Creek after the restoration.



The Restoration of Booze Creek

One particularly successful project has been the restoration of the Booze Creek.

Booze Creek, located near I-495 and River Road, experienced some of the worse impacts of stormwater pollution. Along with poor water quality, stormwater runoff exposed sanitary sewer lines, which caused the leakage of raw sewage into the stream.

Montgomery County DEP, working with the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, stabilized the stream banks, reduced the speed of the stream flow, repaired sewer lines and planted numerous trees. View photos of the restored Booze Creek.


Help Protect the Cabin John Watershed

Individuals interested in helping to protect the health of the Cabin John Creek can contact the Friends of Cabin John Creek. This organization of local citizens prides itself in keeping the streams in the Cabin John Creek watershed healthy and alive.