Stormwater

Summer Rain and The Chesapeake Bay

I think we can all agree that water has been dumping into our local waterways and the Chesapeake Bay at an alarming rate this summer. Communities throughout the watershed have seen it with their own eyes, with major flooding events causing destruction of property and even loss of life. Maryland alone has experienced the rainiest and wettest year on record in more than a century, with 43 inches of rain falling in July through August. That is the most it’s rained since 1889. One begins to wonder just how much the precipitation has impacted the Chesapeake Bay.

Photo by Chesapeake Bay Program

Photo by Chesapeake Bay Program

One of the biggest impacts has been on the Susquehanna River. The Susquehanna, which starts in Cooperstown, New York, flows through Pennsylvania, and reaches the Bay in Havre De Grace, Maryland, is the Chesapeake’s largest tributary. The Susquehanna provides half of the Bay’s fresh water and this year river levels have risen to record highs, which in turn has caused major flooding. So much so that Exelon Power, the company that superintends Conowingo Dam and sits on the Susquehanna River, opened the dam’s floodgates multiple times to relieve the pressure building behind the dam. As a result, the dam unleashed nutrient rich sediment and pollution. In the past, the Conowingo Dam was able to hold large quantities of sediment, but the reservoir has reached its capacity, so nutrient and sediment pollution is now making its way over the dam. According to Exelon, the recent amount of debris has been the largest in 20 years. In a statement, Exelon said to have removed 1,800 tons of trash from behind the dam and are still cleaning. When the dam is opened, pollution flows freely down into the Chesapeake, carrying everything from garbage to tree branches and trunks.

In addition to nutrient and trash pollution, the increased water is causing an issue many may not have considered. As an estuary, the Chesapeake receives its fresh water from its rivers and salt water from the Atlantic Ocean. Due to the all-time-high fresh water flow coming in from its tributaries, the Bay has seen a decrease in its salinity. This can pose a threat to plant and animal life, like oysters and blue crabs, which can only tolerate or thrive in certain water conditions.

Photo by Matthew Beziat

Photo by Matthew Beziat

Huge rainstorms have proven time and time again how devastating it can be for organisms on land and under water. With heavy rainfall comes not only stormwater runoff but agriculture runoff as well; the single largest source of nutrient and sediment pollution entering the Bay. The excess of nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, that enter the Bay power the growth of algae blooms that block sunlight from reaching the underwater grasses. It robs the water of oxygen that plants and animals are dependent on to survive. The Bay’s underwater vegetation, where many blue crabs, fish and shellfish reside, is an indicator in determining the health of the Chesapeake Bay. Healthy underwater grasses provide food and habitat for animals, reduces shoreline erosion and improves overall water quality by slowing down the current and filtering sediment.

It will obviously take time for scientists to measure the full effects the rain has truly had on the Bay. In the meantime, let’s do all that we can to prevent any further damage from stormwater runoff by installing rain gardens, rain barrels, forest buffers, and implementing proper conservation practices. If you see trash, pick it up. It will end up somewhere it shouldn’t.  We can’t control the weather, but we can control our own actions.

Learn more about storm water runoff here.

Taylor Montford is the communications intern for the Choose Clean Water Coalition.

Making the MOST of Annapolis

On any given day in Annapolis, you can hear the shoes of state legislators slap across the old brick roads of West Street, bump into sailors and Navy plebes, and ogle at rows of beautiful boats in the harbor. Like any idyllic bay-side town, buildings are painted in shades of blue and grey that pay tribute to the neighboring Chesapeake Bay and it is hard to walk more than 20 feet without seeing some sort of tribute to the blue crab, a Marylander’s pride and joy. With centuries of history tied deeply to the Chesapeake, it is easy to see why this special and historic town is a must see for visitors from around the world.

Being a popular tourist location, the Annapolis Visitor Center receives heavy traffic. Rather than maneuvering some tricky parallel parking on the narrow roads or using a garage, visitors can instead conveniently park in the Visitor Center Parking Court. Unfortunately, the parking court was a stormwater nightmare that no one noticed at first. As any good Annapolitan knows, “All Drains Lead to the Bay”, and the impervious (non-absorbent) pavement used to build the parking court allowed for polluted rainwater to slide right into our Bay. Having what was essentially a pollution slip-n-slide just a few blocks from the Harbor seemed like a bad idea, which is why the Municipal Online Stormwater Training Center (MOST) worked with the Maryland Department of the Environment, and government leaders, to come up with a stormwater friendly plan.

Photo courtesy of  Annapolis Landscape Architects

Following the educational guidance of MOST and using funding provided by the city of Annapolis, the pavement was replaced with permeable pavers – which allowed for rain to soak down into the ground and be filtered instead of directly carrying contaminants, like motor oil, to stormdrains. A center piece rain garden was also built, centering the oblong parking court like an egg yolk. The city also included recycled curbs, solar-powered meters, and bike racks to encourage ecofriendly transportation. In 2015, this project won “Best Ultra Urban Design” from the Stormwater Network – giving Annapolitans one more thing to be proud of.

A large part of this success is owed to MOST, as this group of environmentalists and educators pulled together both the funding and resources to make it happen. No environmentalist complains about having a local government interested in funding projects, but if no one understands exactly how to apply funding to the issue, in this case stormwater, no effective change can happen. Education is key, and MOST offers free online lessons, toolkits, success stories, and more for anyone interested in a better understanding of what they can do for their community’s polluted runoff issues. They even created a map showing a wide range of other stormwater projects around Maryland called Stormwater Success Stories. Environmental passion, proper education tools, and supportive funders created the perfect storm to combat stormwater runoff in Annapolis – and perhaps soon in a city near you.

Mary Katherine Sullivan is an intern with Choose Clean Water

Montgomery County DEP Tour Shows Investment in Stormwater Initiatives

Not long ago, I was asked to do something at work that I was never asked to do in any of my previous jobs. I was asked to create a document which outlined my professional goals while working with the Choose Clean Water Coalition. I was pretty floored by how good of an idea this was. Never before had an employer taken such an interest in my professional development, so I set out to ensure the opportunity wasn’t squandered.

The first thing I jotted down was fairly straightforward: to get outside, in the field, and see firsthand some of the projects that resulted from the Coalition’s continued and ardent advocacy. Almost instantly, I was afforded the chance to check this item off my list by attending a tour of stormwater infrastructure and stream restoration projects in Montgomery County—a very informative outing facilitated by the Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

A handful of other clean water advocates and I began our day at DEP headquarters and received a crash-course presentation on some of the steps that Montgomery County is taking to make sure that areas with the the most need for restoration and infrastructure work are getting attention. They walked us through their game plan, a five-phase initiative which guides a project from planning and design, all the way through to post-construction monitoring.

We learned that DEP is doing some truly great stuff out in the field, including projects still in the design phase. Montgomery County DEP has applied BMPs and restoration techniques to the equivalent of roughly 4,374 acres of impervious surface—an impressive number to say the very least.

Being presented with the numbers is one thing, but I wanted to throw on my boots and get out and see these practices first-hand. This is exactly what we did. DEP staff loaded us into a pair of vans and brought us to a total of five different restoration sites, each one in a different stage of completion. First we visited a completely finished project, the “Hollywood Branch Stream Restoration.” This location, nestled within the Anacostia River Watershed, boasted a 4,470 linear foot project length, including a natural stream channel design, and connection to existing floodplain and vernal pools areas.

On the other end of the spectrum, we went to the site of a proposed project. What is now a dry stormwater retention pond at the end of a quaint cul-de-sac, will soon become a shallow wetland that will not only hold stormwater drainage from 31 nearby acres (26% of which are impervious), but promises to be so aesthetically appealing that nearby residents have threatened to dust off their old row-boats in anticipation of some leisurely jaunts across the floodplain.

All in all, it was a remarkably successful afternoon. I only lost 5 pounds of water weight due to the humidity, and I didn’t get a single tick bite. Most importantly, I was reminded that our efforts are not for nothing. If you’re willing to get outside and wander a bit, there is a lot of measurable work being done to clean up where we live, work, and play and to provide greener spaces for future generations and for ourselves.