Bioretention – a highly-effective practice. Parking lot runoff enters at curb breaks and percolates down through the brown mulch for 70% – 95% pollutant removal.. Photo from Chesapeake Stormwater Network
In late 2010, Community & Environmental Defense Services (CEDS) conducted a survey of local stormwater review officials to learn how well Environmental Site Design (ESD) was working and how it could be improved. We just repeated the survey with some very interesting results. But before getting to that here’s a bit of history that might help put the results into context.
Six years ago, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley signed the Stormwater Management Act of 2007. The Act required the use of an extremely promising approach to land development known as Environmental Site Design (ESD). Unlike the prior approach, ESD required that consideration of sensitive environmental resources and stormwater management facilities occur at the beginning of site design. ESD also required the use of practices more effective in protecting the suitability of our waters for childhood play, adult recreation, consumption and aquatic ecosystems. In 2009, the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) added a new Chapter 5, to the Maryland Stormwater Design Manual, which set forth how ESD was to be applied. In May, 2010 the new ESD regulations took effect. Continue reading
Full ESD compliance is critical to keeping streams safe for our children as well as sensitive aquatic life
Environmental Site Design (ESD) offers the possibility of gaining the benefits of growth with little or no aquatic resource impact. However, since ESD was adopted in Maryland in 2007 there appears to have been minimal oversight to ensure full compliance. Therefore, Baltimore County citizens took it upon themselves to “kick the tires” by reviewing recently approved development plans.
What they found was appalling.
Only a fourth of proposed development plans showed full use of ESD to prevent stormwater pollution, stream channel erosion and other impacts. Other citizen audits have shown Maryland counties are achieving up to a 95% compliance rate. This prompted a coalition of 15 local, statewide, regional and national groups to sign-on to a letter to Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz pledging their support to help improve ESD compliance. For example, half of the County’s eight-person stormwater review staff recently retired. The coalition pledged their support to help the County Executive fill these positions at the earliest possible date. Once the new reviewers are brought on board we will urge the County to bring in an expert to train the staff in how to ensure development plans make full use of ESD. Continue reading
Far too many construction sites lack the mulch and grass needed to prevent sediment pollution. Perimeter controls, like the overflowing silt fence here, cannot prevent pollution.
Please take a moment to sign the Exposed Soil = Pollution petition.
Exposed soil on a construction site usually means two things. First, a nearby waterway will be polluted come the next big storm. Second, you’re likely witnessing a violation of erosion and sediment control laws. Unfortunately, only a small fraction of sites minimize pollution by fully complying with the law. But we have a strategy to bring a halt to this form of pollution. This effort will only succeed with your help. And all that’s required is for you to spread the word that Exposed Soil = Pollution. Continue reading
In 2001, the Anne Arundel County (MD) stormwater inspection staff was inexplicably reduced from seven to one. As a result of a dramatic decline in inspections and maintenance, half of the County’s 11,000+ stormwater ponds and other Best Management Practices failed over the next decade. This was the finding from a 2011 Watershed Audit of the Severn River system by CEDS. In 2012, a coalition of watershed groups began urging the County Executive and Council to restore inspection staffing. Recently we learned that the County plans to increase staff from first one to four inspectors and eventually as many as seven. Of all the ways that tax dollars might be used to improve water quality, inspections are the most cost-effective. For every $20 spent on inspections nutrient loads are reduced by a pound per year. Most other approaches, like building new BMPs or stream restoration, require $200 to $600 to achieve the same result. Many thanks to County Executive Laura A. Neuman and County Council members: Jamie Benoit, Derek Fink, John Grasso, Dick Ladd, Peter Smith, Chris Trumbauer and Jerry Walker.
If you’ve been depending upon stormwater management, sediment control or other protection measures to preserve your favorite waters from development impacts, then you’re likely in for disappointment. While these measures definitely provide benefits, they are insufficient to protect sensitive waters from damage. So far only limits on watershed development intensity and preserving a minimum amount of forest has been successful in maintaining healthy streams, rivers, lakes and tidal waters. However, if we watershed advocates can find a way to be far more effective in supporting new technologies like Low-Impact Development and Environmental Site Design, then we may reap the benefits of growth while keeping our waters safe for kids and aquatic ecosystems.
Because most of us live in suburban-urban areas, the waters nearest our homes are also mostly unfit for our use (see Kid-Safe Waters article below). Federal law requires that many cities, towns and intensely developed counties obtain a Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) permit. These permits require restoration efforts that could make suburban-urban waters Kid-Safe. For example, a number of permits call for treating a minimum of 20% of existing buildings, streets, and other impervious surfaces with highly-effective runoff pollution control measures. In theory runoff from all existing impervious areas would eventually be treated making all our waters safe for kids, perhaps even allowing the return of some sensitive fish. Additionally, MS4 permits play an essential role in restoring the Chesapeake Bay and her tributary waters.
Four out of five Americans live in urban areas which means most of our neighborhood waters are probably unsafe for our children. The threat to safety comes from the disease-causing organisms washed into these waters with each storm and other sources, such as leaking sewerlines.
On the East Coast, where a third of us live, there’s probably a waterway no more than a 15-minute walk from our homes. While most of these waters are small, headwater streams they can be a source of tremendous fun and fascination for our children. In fact I commonly begin speaking engagements by asking how many folks recall playing in waters near their home as a child. Most raise their hands, particularly among older crowds. Then I ask how many would feel comfortable allowing their children or grand kids to play in the waters nearest their homes today. Very few hands go up.
How sad it is that in the cities, towns and suburbs where recreational opportunities are most desperately needed, thousands of miles of potential aquatic playgrounds are unsafe for our use. And how maddening it is that lax enforcement of our clean water laws has left many of these waters unusable today.
Closed gas stations, like that pictured above, are far too common. The recent advent of “hypermarts” with a dozen or more pumps and large stores has accelerated the decline of small, independently owned gas stations. While certainly convenient, the cheap gas offered by hypermarts tends to last only until competitors go out of business. Area residents are then left with closed gas stations that become eyesores difficult to convert to other uses. But an Aurora, Illinois neighborhood group recently won their battle against a proposed hypermart. Here’s how the victory was won in the words of Randy Briesath who led the campaign. For further detail on getting the benefits of gas stations, convenience stores and hypermarts without the negative impacts visit: ceds.org/convenience. Continue reading
Throughout the nation there are 305,000 miles of natural gas transmission pipelines, with thousands of more miles proposed. Those living near one of these projects can face an unimaginable threat and a great deal of frustration in achieving a reasonable solution.
Take for example the Harford County, MD family who live in the home pictured above. The lower picture illustrates how their yard may look as the pipeline is built 59 feet from their house. Continue reading