Four Mile Run

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Four Mile Run is a tributary of the Potomac River. The main purpose of the stream is flood control for the Northern Virginia urban region. Four Mile Run's watershed size is 19.7 square miles with 17.0 square miles in a non-tidal area, unaffected by the Potomac River's backwater effects. The stream, built as a stormwater collection project, is 9.35 miles long. The name Four Mile Run does not derive from its length, but was, in fact, a misreading of an old map. There was once an old flour mill near the mouth at the Potomac. On the map, the words "Flour Mill" were written beside the word for the stream, "Run," but the L's in "Flour Mill" were faded and resulted in an interpretation of the stream name as "Four Mile Run." [1] The stream starts in Fairfax County just beyond I-66 at Gordon Avenue and runs through the jurisdictions of Fairfax, Falls Church, Arlington, and Alexandria. More than 183,000 people live in the watershed according to the 2000 Census.


Development around Four Mile Run began in 1608; trappers and traders arrived in 1630 hunting beavers, which were abundant in the stream and subsequently wiped out. (Recently, beavers have been seen in the watershed.) The stream was historically used as a property boundary and still visually separates some sections of Alexandria and Arlington’s borders.[2]

Around 1872, Carlin Springs was used as a local swimming hole and dance hall with refreshments served near the artificial “spring.” In 1887 the property was sold, but the area remained a park (some of the structure still remains to this day). From 1906 to 1915, the Luna Park amusement complex, built on the lower end of the stream, attracted residents to its roller coasters, ballrooms and restaurants, and even circus performers. After a long day at the park, some people would go for a quick dip in the deeper pools, which were likely polluted with sewage. In the1930s, the first sewage treatment plant was built at the site of Luna Park, where it still resides.[3] During the 1940s, garbage dumps along the stream's banks caused water quality problems and later became indicators of degraded stream cleanliness that increased awareness among the local community. By the 1950's, parking lots and automobiles were the worst pollutants of the watershed.[4]

Seven major floods caused over $40 million (1968 dollars) in property damage in the watershed throughout the 1960s and early 1970s.[5] In response to these floods, Congress appropriated money for levees and floodwalls in 1974, which created a channel-shaped basin that does not promote biodiversity. Congress also encouraged local jurisdictions to develop a flood management plan, an effort spearheaded by the Northern Virginia Planning District Commission and signed into existence through a memorandum of understanding between the four local jurisdictions in 1977. In 1981, FEMA published a flood insurance rate map and the local jurisdictions revised the flood management plans to include no development in the floodplains.[6] Today, nearly 85 percent of the watershed is developed land.[7] Current plans for flood control improvements by the US Army Corps of Engineers are in motion and a new floodplain map will be published in 2011.[8] Recent development includes the design of a new pedestrian/bicycle bridge in Potomac Yard and a grand redesign of the natural channel of Four Mile Run.

Current Projects

2011 Four Mile Run Stream Restoration Project

Arlington County - Donaldson Run, Gulf Branch, and Upper Four Mile Run Watershed Retrofit Study

Fairfax County - Watershed Plan for Dogue Creek, Belle Haven, and Four Mile Run Watersheds



Doctors Run
  • Starts at the Foreign Service Center
  • Major source of E. Coli.

Long Branch (Lower)
  • Longest tributary of Four Mile Run
  • Starts at the Home Depot shopping center in Seven Corners
  • Runs along Long Branch Nature Center

Long Branch (Upper)
  • Not linked to Lower Long Branch
  • Starts at Walter Reed Drive, flowing through Army/Navy Country Club

Lucky Run
  • Mostly flows in culverts
  • Splits and starts near Seminary Road and NOVA Alexandria Campus
  • Second biggest source of E. Coli.

Lubber Run
  • Second largest tributary of Four Mile Run
  • Starts at Capital Hospice, North of I-66
  • Has a large retaining pond along I-66
  • Tributary with the most parkland along its banks


Census data for Arlington County[9]
Residents of Arlington County are generally well-educated and well-off financially. Over a quarter take public transportation or carpool to work and the majority live in multi-unit housing. Although over 80 percent of residents are transplants from other areas, almost the same percentage lived in the same house a year ago.
  • Education: In 2005, 91 percent of people 25 years and over had at least graduated from high school and 66 percent had a bachelor's degree or higher.
  • Income: The median income of households in Arlington County was $80,433.
  • Transportation: Fifty-five percent of Arlington County workers drove to work alone in 2005, 9 percent carpooled, 24 percent took public transportation, and 6 percent used other means. The remaining 6 percent worked at home. Among those who commuted to work, it took them on average 25.9 minutes to get to work.
  • Housing: In 2005, Arlington County had a total of 93,000 housing units, 9 percent of which were vacant. Of the total housing units, 42 percent were in single-unit structures, 58 percent were in multi-unit structures, and less than 0.5 percent were mobile homes. Fifteen percent of the housing units were built since 1990.
  • Housing Costs: The median monthly housing costs for mortgaged owners was $2,233, nonmortgaged owners $656, and renters $1,261. Twenty-five percent of owners with mortgages, 23 percent of owners without mortgages, and 41 percent of renters in Arlington County spent 30 percent or more of household income on housing.
  • Residence Types: Eighty-two percent of Arlington County residents were born in a different state, U.S. territory, or country; 79 percent of residents lived in the same house one year ago.

Four Mile Run Master Plan Statistics[10]

Consultants studied a small section of the Four Mile Run corridor for the Four Mile Run Master Plan. The following demographic profile is based on a pool of around 33,000 people, which makes up about 18 percent of the total population in the 20 square mile Four Mile Run watershed. In general, the study found that, “The Four Mile Run corridor is diverse in terms of age, income, housing and cultural background, with some demographic characteristics concentrated in certain areas.”

Slightly more than half of the population falls between ages 18 and 44
  • 25-34 year-olds comprising the largest segment of the population (this is also true of Arlington County)
  • The population in general is aging: just under half of the current population will be age 55 or older within 20 years.
  • Average annual incomes in the Four Mile Run corridor mirror those in Alexandria and Arlington and are considerably higher than the national average, however, mapping income statistics reveals:
    • A wide range of incomes in the corridor and
    • A substantial gap between the highest-income block groups and the lowest-income block groups
  • Largest concentration of non-English speakers in the corridor are found East and West of I-395. Over the entire corridor:
    • 60 percent speak English
    • 30 percent speak Spanish
    • 10 percent speak other languages
  • Rental housing composes over half of the housing units with the highest concentrations of rental housing in the areas with the highest populations

Get Involved

Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment Stream Clean Up

Four Mile Run Farmers and Artisans Market


Picasa Photo Album

Picasa Photo Map

TMDL Document
  1. ^ Eckert, D. (2010). Four Mile Run Video. In V. Verweij (Ed.) (Email ed.).
  2. ^ Four Mile Run: Reviving an Urban Stream. (2001). [Video]: Virginia Village Productions.
  3. ^ Wikipedia. (2010). Four Mile Run. Retrieved September 2010, from
  4. ^ Four Mile Run: Reviving an Urban Stream. (2001). [Video]: Virginia Village Productions.
  5. ^ NVRC. Four Mile Run Program History. Retrieved September 2010, from
  6. ^ Choudhury, S. (2010). Four Mile Run Interview. In L. Wells & V. Verweij (Eds.). Arlington.
  7. ^ NVRC. Four Mile Run Program History. Retrieved September 2010, from
  8. ^ Choudhury, S. (2010). Four Mile Run Interview. In L. Wells & V. Verweij (Eds.). Arlington.
  9. ^ U.S. Census Bureau, (2005). Arlington County, Virginia: General Demographic Characteristics: 2005. Retrieved November 2010, from
  10. ^ Rhodeside & Harwell, Inc., CH2M Hill, Biohabitats, Inc., & Waterscapes/Dreiseitl. (2006). Four Mile Run Restoration Master Plan. Retrieved November 2010, from __