Bird River: An Emerging Model for Accelerating Watershed Restoration

BirdRiverAerialOf all of the Chesapeake Bay’s 100,000 miles of tributaries, Bird River is arguably the most severely impacted by sediment.  But a combination of government funded projects and citizen advocacy for improved clean water law enforcement may bring about recovery of this waterway which is unprecedented with regard to speed.

Overview

For more than four decades those who live on and near Bird River have been promised an end to the tremendous quantities of eroded soil and mud pollution that has filled in boating channels, decimated fish and crabs, depreciated property values, and caused an overall decline in quality of life.  In the late 1990s Baltimore County and other agencies began a series of stream restoration projects designed to reduce sediment released through bank erosion.  Finally, in 2001 a total of 27,000 feet of boating channels were dredged throughout the tidal river at a cost to taxpayers of $1.3 million.  But within a few years portions of the channel had filled in once again.  In 2014, a very poorly-planned development project caused Bird River residents to rise up and take matters into their own hands.  Not only did they win changes that corrected much of the aquatic resource impact, but they began scrutinizing the effectiveness of clean water law enforcement throughout their watershed.  This effort produced a nine-fold improvement in the quality of construction site mud pollution control.  They are now pursuing other major sources of pollution.  Bird River advocates can see a day in the very near future when all significant sediment sources are corrected and the River can be dredged again, but with far more lasting results.  This effort illustrates why watershed organizations can only achieve the goal of fully restored waterways if they serve as vocal, politically savvy watchdogs while also pursuing clean-ups, education projects, tree plantings, household retrofits, etc.  To learn more about this effort join us on Wednesday, January 21st when the Bird River Restoration Campaign will hold their next meeting, beginning 7:00 PM, at the Perry Hall Library.  On Wednesday, January 28th, CEDS president Richard Klein will conduct a three-hour workshop for those interested in learning how to launch similar efforts on other waterways:  See Workshop Details. Continue reading

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CEDS Workshops – Winning More Land Use & Watershed Protection Battles

CEDS is offering the following workshops, limited to ten people each:

Wednesday, Jan 28th, 1:00 – 4:00 PM, Watershed Audit: The Quickest Way to Correct Multiple Pollution Sources Degrading a Waterway & Expand Your Base of Public Support, Political Clout. We’ll show you how to recruit large numbers of watershed residents to participate in a survey of a watershed for pollution sources such as construction sites, leaking sewers, poorly maintained stormwater pollution control measures, and much more. We’ll then explain how to use the combined political clout of the residents to get each pollution source quickly corrected. The workshop includes a visit to actual sources so you can see how easy it is to pin-point and correct pollution. For further background on this approach see: Severn River Audit (suburban watershed) or Corsica River Audit (rural watershed).

Tuesday, Feb 10th, 10:00 AM – Noon, Citizen Land Use & Watershed Growth Management Plans: How to Draft a Plan that Accommodates Reasonable Growth Without Jeopardizing Quality of Life or Aquatic Resource Health & Get the Plan Adopted. Most land use plans seem designed to maximize growth regardless of the economic or environmental impact to residents. Yet drafting a citizen based plan can be a highly effective way of mobilizing the public support and political clout needed to shift growth in ways that preserve and enhance quality of life as well as aquatic resource health. We’ll present examples of citizen generated plans that have effectively guided growth for more than four decades despite extreme developer pressure to abandon the plan.

Wednesday, Feb 25th, 1:00 – 4:00 PM, Environmental Site Design & Other Innovative Ways of Getting the Benefits of Growth While Preserving & Enhancing Aquatic Resource Health.   All Chesapeake Bay watershed jurisdictions have or are about to adopt Environmental Site Design or similar approaches that utilize highly-effective runoff control measures and other practices that greatly development impacts. However, compliance with these new approaches is uneven throughout the 64,000 square mile watershed. During this workshop we’ll show you how to review plans for a proposed development project to determine if it makes full use of ESD or other innovative measures. We’ll also show you how to review a sampling of plans recently approved by a town, city or county to assess overall compliance. Finally, we’ll present proven strategies for dramatically increasing compliance. For further background see our Montgomery County ESD Audit and the CEDS News Services article on Baltimore County.

Each workshop is limited to ten people and will be held in northern Baltimore County, MD. The fee for each workshop is $50 per person. To register go to: ceds.org/workshop. After we receive your registration we’ll send you details including the workshop location. For further information contact Richard Klein at 410-654-3021 or Rklein@ceds.org.

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Equitable Solutions: A Better Way To Win Land Use & Environmental Disputes

The Old, Wrong Way

Here’s the all too common scenario.  Citizens learn a development project is proposed for their watershed.  It looks like the project may cause harm, but there’s only two weeks before the big hearing.  This leaves little time to understand the process, verify impacts or to research options for resolving negative effects.  So they do what far too many folks opt for: Hire a lawyer to kill the project.  After all, killing the project prevents all impacts.  And it seems to work because someone heard that another project was killed a couple of years ago.  From the citizen’s perspective, what could be better?  Well, nothing except this approach succeeds less than 5% of the time vs. 90% for the better way.  The wrong way also burns out volunteers, wastes limited funds, and gives citizens the inaccurate impression that government is in the builders’ pocket.

The Better Way

Rather than immediately hiring a lawyer and setting the adversarial process in motion, citizens first obtain the plans, identify potential impacts, consult with staff and other experts to determine if impacts are likely to occur, and for those judged real seek ways to resolve each impact, preferably in a manner that allows the applicant to get most of what they want.  This is the Equitable Solutions approach.  It frequently costs very little, inspires citizens to become active participants in watershed management, and leaves citizens feeling positive about how their local government functions.  An Equitable Solutions campaign can also use a single poorly designed project to improve environmental protection throughout a county, city or state.

Equitable Solutions is described in detail in How To Win Land Development Issues, a 300-page book free for download at: ceds.org/publications.html.  CEDS can also conduct an Equitable Solutions workshop in your area (go to end of this article for details).   In the meantime we offer the following Equitable Solutions How-To summary.  We’re also a phone call away (410-654-3021) if you have questions. Continue reading

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Why Citizen Oversight Is Crucial To Clean Water Law Enforcement

AverageCondition_May2013Since releasing the results of the Greater Baltimore Exposed Soil = Pollution Survey last week, I’ve received a number of messages from folks who do not understand why citizen involvement is essential to achieving a high level of compliance with Clean Water laws like erosion-sediment control.  The following true story shows why public support is essential to ensuring enforcement agencies have the resources needed to be effective, then creating a political climate where the agencies are allowed to enforce.  The success described below was not a fluke.  It has been repeated many times.  Now the challenge is to increase citizen involvement in all Clean Water law enforcement efforts in every watershed if we are to fully restore the Bay and the 57% of her freshwater tributaries that are unfit for our use (red-orange watersheds in map). Continue reading

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Greater Baltimore Citizen Survey Finds Poor Construction Site Mud Pollution Control

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Dr. Ben Fertig, Suzy Wald, Wendy Alberg Assessing A Construction Site For Compliance With Mud Pollution Control Laws

In June and July, 2014, 105 construction sites in the Greater Baltimore region were surveyed for erosion control quality by 33 staff and volunteers from 22 local, statewide or national organizations. We found that up to 89% of disturbed, construction soils could be fully stabilized (protected) from erosion through the use of straw mulch, grass or stone. However, only 23% of these soils actually were protected.  We are deeply concerned that the same may be true throughout much of the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

ResultsGraphHarford County is achieving the highest stabilization rate (37%), followed by Baltimore City and Howard County (27% each). Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Carroll counties had the lowest stabilization rate (12% – 19%) with an average of 16%.

As a result of stabilization rates far below the 89% level, the mud pollution discharging from these sites is far above that allowed by State and local law as well as the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load document.  Mud pollution levels are also sufficiently high to damage the health of nearby waterways by destroying fish habitat and Bay grasses, carrying toxins and other contaminants, and contributing nutrients that result in algae blooms and dead zones in local creeks and the Bay. For each dollar spent keeping mud on the construction site with stabilization, we all save at least $100 in damages avoided. Continue reading

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Nottingham Ridge: An Example Why Bay Recovery Progresses So Slowly?

NOVEMBER 2014 UPDATE

In September Baltimore County finally directed the owner of the Nottingham Ridge site to halt erosion, but is unclear whether this applied to a couple of acres or all 23 acres of exposed soil on the site.  We are awaiting recent aerial photos to determine the extent of stabilization.

On October 21st Baltimore County Administrative Law Judge John Beverungen ordered Nottingham Ridge to comply with the 2000 Maryland Stormwater Design Manual.  As you will see in the graph below, this provides 70% of the benefits which would result from compliance with Environmental Site Design.

Nottingham Ridge, overall

Proposed Development at the Nottingham Ridge Site

Original Article: Nottingham Ridge is an 83-acre Planned Unit Development (PUD) proposed for a site adjoining Whitemarsh Run, in Baltimore County, MD.  The site also drains to the Bird and Gunpowder Rivers, then the Chesapeake Bay.  Presently, two office buildings occupy a small percentage of the site.  A development company is proposing to intensively build-out the site.

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Muddy Water Discharged From Nottingham Ridge

The project would needlessly add a tremendous quantity of nutrients and other pollutants to the Gunpowder and Chesapeake Bay.  The site has also been needlessly discharging large amounts of muddy water (like that pictured to the left)  for more than a decade!  Why the emphasis on the word needlessly? Continue reading

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Why Your Help Is So Urgently Needed: The 4th Street Rain Garden Saga

The 4th Street Rain Garden

The 4th Street Rain Garden

After 8 Months It’s Finally Restored

The following article was posted last March.  A few weeks ago the 4th Street Rain Garden was finally restored, thanks to the City of Annapolis.  So, one BMP restored; several tens of thousands in the Chesapeake watershed to go.

Restoring the Bay is dependent upon keeping thousands of Best Management Practices (BMPs) working.  The following article illustrates why this task cannot be accomplished without a tremendous increase in public participation.  It shows how even the most dedicated agencies cannot cope with a tremendous workload.  It also shows how even the most Bay-knowledgeable among us are not aware of this need, which speaks loudly to the need for better public education. Continue reading

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