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Paint Branch Subwatershed

Located in the eastern area of Montgomery County, Paint Branch is one of four subwatersheds located in the County that drain to the Anacostia River, a major tributary of the Potomac River. The other subwatersheds are the Northwest Branch, Sligo Creek, and Little Paint Branch.

Paint Branch supports a unique County and regional resource—an urban cold-water wild brown trout population in close proximity to the Nation's capital and surrounded by suburban development. The upper reaches of the subwatershed, and in particular Good Hope and Gum Springs, provide spawning/nursery areas and cold, clean baseflow water for young trout. The Right Fork and lower portion of the Left Fork provide habitat and food supply for adult trout.

The Lower Paint Branch also supports a diverse fish community, including rosyside dace, fallfish, and common shiner, and adult brown trout can be found down to Interstate 495.

Image of Paint Branch

A Journey Through Paint Branch 

Land uses in the Upper Paint Branch include low- and medium-density residential communities interspersed with some commercial and agricultural activities. Much of the development in this area was completed before the requirement for stormwater controls. As a result, streams in these older developed areas show signs of impairment, though on a much smaller scale than the lower parts of the subwatershed. Large areas of forested parkland protect the riparian area throughout much of Upper Paint Branch. Resource conditions range from excellent to good in this area.

Tributaries in the Lower Paint Branch subwatershed have suffered impairment over the years from older development and land uses that do not have adequate stormwater controls. The lower subwatershed contains significant areas of high development as well as medium- to high-density residential areas built largely without any on-site runoff controls. Conditions in Lower Paint Branch range from good to poor.

Forest cover in the lower subwatershed is largely confined to the stream valleys, but the limited tree cover is enough to keep the water temperatures cool enough for adult brown trout.

Because of the unique cold-water community in this subwatershed, one of the few remaining in Montgomery County, the Paint Branch has received much attention over the years and has been the focus of many innovative efforts to address the effects of land use on the stream resource. A primary goal of land use planning efforts, starting with the 1981 Master Plan, has been to protect the streams from the effects of development.


Protecting Paint Branch

These efforts continue at many levels today. Large areas of Upper Paint Branch have been acquired for parkland instead of new developments. The upper subwatershed (above Fairland Rd.) was designated as a Special Protection Area in 1995, and development built after the implementation of this legislation is capped at 10% imperviousness (limits the amount of ground paved, or built on, to 10%).

County biologists, working cooperatively with others, continue to investigate the condition of the streams and the success of various best management practices in preserving this unique area. Apart from protecting this subwatershed for the benefit of the County's natural heritage, maintaining the unique quality and diversity of this area preserves a healthy arm and refuge for the overall Anacostia River watershed.


How Can I Help Protect the Paint Branch Watershed?

Individuals interested in helping to protect the health of the Paint Branch can contact the Eyes of Paint Branch. This organization of local citizens prides itself in keeping the streams in the Paint Branch subwatershed healthy and alive.