Throughout the nation watershed advocates struggle with poor Clean Water law compliance, but this may change thanks to a very successful experiment in the Baltimore portion of the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
Courtosy of Baltimore Metropolitan Commission
Over a 12-month period, 70 volunteers and 40 local, statewide and national organizations carried out two surveys of the quality of erosion control on 140 constructions sites in the Greater Baltimore region.
In June 2014, the compliance rate with State and local erosion control laws was 23%. A year later, when the survey was repeated, compliance had risen to 37% – a 61% improvement. In just one year we reduced the amount of mud pollution from all the 450+ construction sites active in the Greater Baltimore area by 4,270 tons! Continue reading
New shopping centers, highways, housing projects and other development is the only source of pollution which is growing in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. We rely upon a number of programs to ensure that we get the benefits of this growth while minimizing environmental impacts: construction site sediment control, stormwater management, wastewater collection-treatment, wetland-waterway permitting, etc. If these programs do not achieve a high level of compliance then the benefits of all other restoration activities – public education, retrofits, in-channel projects – may be obscured by sediment, stormwater, sewage and other excessive pollution.
While it is believed that compliance is fair to poor in many parts of the Chesapeake Bay basin, watershed organizations have lacked an independent means of verifying then correcting this – until now. Continue reading
Of 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.
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. Continue reading
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.
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
Since 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
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.
Harford 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