Stormwater

The Forest Conservation Act of Maryland

Forests do not often get the credit they deserve when it comes to restoring the Chesapeake Bay, but here at the Choose Clean Water Coalition we want to put a spotlight on this important part of the ecosystem. Forests work like giant sponges, absorbing rain water and pulling it into the soil. This absorption of water keeps the soil moist and able to grow vegetation, which creates the forests that provide food, shelter, nesting sites, and safe migration paths for critters in the water and on land.  Forest buffers also help to stabilize stream banks and improve water quality. Their large root systems keep the soil in place, keeping sediment from eroding into water ways and act as large filters to clean rainwater runoff. This is a hugely important part of keeping our Bay clean from stormwater and agriculture pollution. Forests are also economically valuable, as they supply wood and paper products, generate jobs and income, provide the state with a recreational income from parks, and increasing property value. 

When settlers arrived in the Chesapeake Bay region, their impression of the land was that there was “too much wood” and said the view of the untapped America was “an undulating surface of impenetrable forest”. These ancient trees were about 40 percent taller than the young new trees that grow here now. Between 1982 and 1997, the Bay watershed lost more than 750,000 acres of forestland. Today, there are about 24 million acres of forest and the watershed is losing about 70 acres each day. So how do we continue to benefit from the economic value of our forests without losing everything? Sustainable forestry is a broad term for management techniques that respect the environmental, social, and economic values of the forest – while still allowing for harvesting.

Photo courtesy of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation

Photo courtesy of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation

The Bay jurisdictions have worked to mitigate this issue. In 1991, the Forest Conservation Act (FCA) of Maryland was passed to protect our forest habitats from over-foresting. The act is primarily implemented on a local level, through the Department of Natural Resources. The FCA covers private and public forested areas 40,000 square feet or larger – with a few exceptions including highway construction. Thanks to the FCA, before construction is started applicants must submit a Forest Stand Delineation and Forest Conservation Plan. These are used to determine the best areas for construction, review information on the soil and trees present at the site, as well as a schedule, a reforestation plan, and a plan demonstrating minimal ecological disturbance. These mitigation requirements vary by plot size and essentially require replanting of trees to compensate for what is lost.

Photo courtesy of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation

Photo courtesy of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation

Maryland has not altered its FCA since 2013, and now it is up for review this coming legislative session. About half of the Bay watershed is in Maryland, so, it is extremely vital that the decisions made in the 2018 Conservation Act positively impact the watershed. As for changes to the current FCA, some conservationists believe that the replacement ratio for trees should be 1:1 throughout all of Maryland, and done directly by those building on the land. Previously, builders have been able to pay a fee to the county instead of replanting, but it is difficult to track how those fees are used. The consensus from environmentalists is that without stricter rules on how replanting is done, "no net loss" is not truly fulfilled. It is imperative that we remember why the Forest Conservation Act was implemented to begin with – and to carefully weigh the benefits and risk of modern construction on our beloved wilderness.

 Mary Katherine Sullivan is an intern with the Clean Water Coalition.

Toxic Runoff in Maryland

Industrial Sites Ignoring Law, Polluting Communities and Waterways

A law enforcement culture that is soft on polluters and a state permitting system riddled with loopholes is leaving Maryland communities and waterways at risk from the toxic mix of rainwater and chemicals that wash off of old cars in junkyards and out of landfills or agricultural supply sites across the state.

According to a November 2017 report from the Center for Progressive Reform and the Environmental Integrity Project, more than 900 industrial facilities in Maryland are subject to the state’s industrial stormwater “general permit,” a critical tool developed by the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) to achieve the Clean Water Act’s fundamental goals of prohibiting toxic water pollution and restoring vibrant local waterways. These 900 facilities can be found in urban and rural areas, from Maryland’s westernmost counties all the way to the shore. But many of them are concentrated in low-income communities, raising concerns about the social justice implications of MDE’s weak enforcement and permitting programs.

The key to Maryland’s industrial stormwater general permit is that facilities are required to get a permit to pollute, then live within its limits. The facilities that pollute the most are required to test their polluting discharges and then report to the state on whether they’re within legal limits.

The report finds, however, that more than a third of the industrial facilities required by their permits to report results of stormwater runoff pollution testing are discharging such toxic metals as lead and copper in excess of legal limits, threatening the health of local residents, wildlife, and the Chesapeake Bay.

In addition, the report finds that about 14 percent of facilities with such permits don’t bother to report the results of testing, if indeed they’re conducting tests at all, meaning that, all told, close to half of the facilities required to report on their stormwater runoff aren’t in full compliance with the law.

That kind of rampant failure to follow the law is only possible when enforcement is feeble, and that’s exactly what the authors of Toxic Runoff from Maryland Industry found. Although the state’s environmental policy is generally regarded as progressive, it has begun turning its back on deterrence-based enforcement, following in the footsteps of the federal government. As of September 2017, the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) had only inspected 54 percent of the facilities that reported excessively polluted discharges. In addition, between 2014 and 2017, MDE inspected only 42 percent of the industrial facilities that had failed to file required reports on their polluting discharges, raising the possibility that these companies could be discharging untold quantities of toxic pollutants into the state’s waterways.

As is often the case, the burden from pollution highlighted in the report hits the state’s low-income communities hardest because the industrial facilities doing the polluting are often sited right on their doorsteps. CPR Policy Analyst David Flores, a co-author of the report, noted that low-income areas of East Baltimore, Prince George’s County, Salisbury, and Anne Arundel County are particularly hard hit.

Among the more egregious examples of polluters’ failure to comply with their permits:

  • Cambridge Iron and Metal Company in East Baltimore discharged stormwater that contained lead that exceeded acceptable levels by an average of 717 percent.
  • Potomac German Auto in Frederick had stormwater with aluminum that exceeded acceptable levels by 1,127 percent.
  • Salisbury Scrap Metal, Inc., on the Eastern Shore had stormwater with copper that exceeded acceptable levels by 1,564 percent.
  • The Southern States agricultural supplies outlet in North Cumberland, MD, had zinc in its runoff that exceeded acceptable levels by an average of 1,378 percent.

For more:

The Center for Progressive Reform is a nonprofit research and educational organization with a network of Member Scholars working to protect health, safety, and the environment through analysis and commentary. The organization's 50+ Member Scholars -- working academics at institutions of higher learning across the United States -- provide research, analysis and commentary on a range of issues related to the environment, health and safety.

“Hi, We’re from the Stormwater Workgroup and We’re Here to Help!”

As unlikely as the words in the title are to be spoken out loud, they would ring true if they were. Dealing with stormwater pollution, or “polluted runoff” - the more public friendly term- in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, has been a Policy Priority of the Choose Clean Water Coalition since our formation in 2009.

Photo Credit: Chesapeake Bay Program

Photo Credit: Chesapeake Bay Program

Our simple sounding goal is: “Strengthen policies and permits to stop polluted runoff in urbanized areas.” Anyone familiar with this issue knows that neither the problems nor the solutions are simple. Even narrowing down to “urbanized” areas is a bit of a misnomer, since there is polluted runoff on farms (think about what pops out of one end of a cow, and then what happens when it rains); from rural areas where drilling pads for hydraulic fracturing (fracking) are located; and from the construction of pipelines and powerlines crisscrossing the rural parts of our watershed.  All are growing sources of stormwater runoff and pollution.

Let’s get back to the primary issue of stormwater pollution. This is the source of about 16 percent of nutrient pollution (both nitrogen and phosphorus) and 24 percent of sediment loads to the Bay. Far from the largest source of pollution to the Bay, but it is the fastest growing source in our region and one that tends to be very expensive to fix. That is why the Coalition decided early on to focus on this complex source of Bay pollution.

Much of the polluted runoff in our region though, does emanate from urbanized areas, and local and state governments, and the EPA, all have a role in regulating and reducing these sources of pollution. This is done primarily through a permitting system established through the Clean Water Act – the Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems, or “MS4” permits, for short. Kind of a cutesy acronym that engineers find comforting, and the rest of us roll our eyes about.

Photo Credit: Chesapeake Bay Program

Photo Credit: Chesapeake Bay Program

But MS4 permits are a critical mechanism for dealing with stormwater runoff and that is why the Coalition’s Stormwater Workgroup has focused on this tool. In 2016, the Workgroup developed and adopted a “Model MS4 Permit” for our region, which clean water advocates could use, and have used, to lobby local, state, and federal governments to development stronger permits to reduce stormwater pollution entering local streams and rivers and eventually the Chesapeake Bay itself.

The Workgroup has also focused on mechanisms used by local governments to fund the actions that need to be taken “on the ground” to reduce pollution. Often, these funding sources are called “Stormwater Utilities” and are a user fee charged to residential and commercial properties for local governments to cover costs to fix stormwater pollution problems, many of which are caused by private development. The Coalition has put together an inventory of stormwater utilities throughout the six state (and D.C.) Chesapeake Bay watershed, with the intent of sharing success stories among local jurisdictions. These stories and “lessons learned” have been expanding around the watershed and more and more localities are considering, and implementing, new and innovative funding sources to pay for the work that is necessary.

There are no “silver bullets” to address stormwater pollution in the Chesapeake region – or nationwide for that matter. But the Stormwater Workgroup of the Choose Clean Water Coalition has been working hard to make a difference and to stop this growing source of pollution from growing any further.

Peter Marx is a federal contractor and the Stormwater Workgroup lead for the Coalition.

Cleaning and Greening with Meaning

The Stormwater Workgroup of the Choose Clean Water Coalition has done a lot of work over the past few years on “stormwater utilities” – or “stormwater fees”. Fees are a mechanism used by local governments to help cover the costs of fixing polluted runoff problems in urban and/or suburban areas.

Photo: Chesapeake Bay Program

Photo: Chesapeake Bay Program

A couple of years ago, the workgroup put together a Stormwater Utility Clearinghouse – effectively a spreadsheet listing every local government in the Chesapeake Bay watershed that had a stormwater fee, and included specific data about the fees; the fee structure, including exemptions; and contact information. The primary intent was to have a central document that other local governments could use to get ideas about efforts in their region to reduce stormwater runoff and meet clean water goals.

David Morgan, the water policy associate for the Coalition in 2016 and 2017, spent time refining the Clearinghouse and also sharing information with others across the country, including the Western Kentucky University which compiles a similar list stormwater utilities nationwide.

In order to improve information sharing with local government officials who might be interested in establishing a stormwater fee, a few members of the workgroup, Becky Hammer and Alisa Valderrama with Natural Resources Defense Council and David Morgan, sought to compile a helpful list of policy recommendations. This report, with a heavy emphasis on using green infrastructure to reduce stormwater pollution, was completed in June.  The “Paying for Stormwater Management in Chesapeake Bay Communities: Policy Recommendations” is now available for anyone to use.

The concise 15 page report provides a lot of basic information for anyone, or any community, interested in stormwater utilities. The report also contains a number of references to other sources for more detailed information in a number of areas. If you know of someone interested in learning about utilities, or if you want to spur your local government to consider something like this, feel free to share this report with them.

This report provides guidance for how to set a fee, how much it should be, who should pay it, who should be exempt or receive a credit, and other critical information.

Peter Marx is the federal affairs contractor with the Choose Clean Water Coalition.

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.

Five Coalition Members Receive Funding for Greet Street Projects to Manage Polluted Runoff

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Chesapeake Bay Trust, in partnership with Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources, announced $727,500 in grants to be awarded to 5 Coalition members and 10 additional organizations through the Green Streets, Green Towns, Green Jobs Grant Initiative (G3). This program was created in 2011 to encourage local jurisdictions to use “green” techniques when pursuing necessary “gray” infrastructure projects, accomplishing two goals within one project. Coalition recipients include:

  1. Friends of the North Fork Shenandoah River, Virginia, $43,615
  2. Blue Water Baltimore, Baltimore, $74,826
  3. American Rivers, Regional, $19,880
  4. West/Rhode Riverkeeper, Inc., Edgewater, Md., $30,000
  5. Parks & People Foundation, Baltimore, $75,000.

Friends of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River plan to reduce polluted runoff and stabilize the streambank at the historic Edinburg Mill, in Edinburg, Virginia. A high visibility site for tourists and local residents alike, the Mill was recently renovated and houses the Shenandoah Valley Cultural Heritage Museum as well as meetings space. The Mill's large parking area drains directly into Stony Creek, a Class V trout stream and tributary of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River. Partners involved include the Center for Watershed Protection and Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, as well as the Town of Edinburg and the museum. 

American Rivers plans to create gateway gardens which both reduce polluted runoff and improve community value. The projects will leverage private-public partnerships between municipalities and businesses. Unfortunately, complex highway design and maintenance policies can hamper local initiatives. This project will analyze these challenges and work with state highway administrators to identify solutions to increase locally driven 'green' gateway projects, clean water and sustain communities. 

“These funds contribute to a sustainable green economy by supporting a continuous cycle of pollution prevention, water retention and job creation - leading to a better quality of life for the people who call these communities home,” said EPA Regional Administrator Shawn M. Garvin. “By keeping rain water from coming into contact with pollution in the first place, green infrastructure improves the health of our waters, while effectively reducing flooding, and helping our communities adapt to the very real challenges of climate change.”

Projects include the removal of impervious concrete, the expansion of urban tree canopies, the creation of bioretention cells, and many other green infrastructure practices.

The G3 Grant Program, administered by the Chesapeake Bay Trust, helps support President Obama’s Executive Order for Protecting and Restoring the Chesapeake Bay. Its purpose is to improve local, grassroots-level greening efforts by towns and communities in urbanized watersheds that reduce stormwater runoff through the creation of “green streets,” the increase in urban green spaces, and the reduction of impervious surfaces. This program is open to local governments, non-profit organizations, and neighborhood/community associations focused on green stormwater management retrofits with grants available up to $20,000 for research efforts, $30,000 for design, and $75,000 for implementation projects.

2015 Green Streets grant recipients include: 

  1. Mount Vernon-Belvedere Association, Baltimore, $10,795
  2. Friends of the North Fork Shenandoah River, Virginia, $43,615
  3. Baltimore Tree Trust, Baltimore, $35,000
  4. Second Chance, Inc., Baltimore, $30,000
  5. Blue Water Baltimore, Baltimore, $74,826
  6. Land and Cultural Preservation, Inc., Frederick, Md., $14,315    
  7. Community Action Commission, Pennsylvania, $70,000    
  8. City of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, $60,000
  9. Old Goucher Community Association, Baltimore, $99,068            
  10. City of Staunton, Virginia, $75,000 
  11. American Rivers, Regional, $19,880
  12. West/Rhode Riverkeeper, Inc., Edgewater, Md., $30,000  
  13. Town of Edmonston, Edmonston, Md., $15,000
  14. Parks & People Foundation, Baltimore, $75,000
  15. Highlandtown Community Association, Baltimore, $75,000

For more information on the Green Streets, Green Jobs, Green Towns grant program, please visitwww.cbtrust.org/grants/g3.