Stormwater Projects Going forward in Anne Arundel County

July-August 2011

 

Restoring the Chesapeake Bay Watershed

Federal and state grants, combined with matching local funding, help pay for projects with more than just local benefits.
By Margaret Buranen

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Some parts of the Chesapeake Bay are pristine, but other sections are so full of silt and runoff that they appear muddy even at ground level. Years of unregulated agricultural runoff, the growing amount of impervious surface from suburban sprawl, and the bureaucracy of several states intertwined with their own interests are the main reasons for the decline of the Chesapeake.
The Chesapeake’s watershed covers 64,000 square miles. That territory includes large and small cities, suburbs, farmlands, forests, and wetlands in Washington, DC, and six states (Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, Virginia, and West Virginia).
People and organizations, including the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, have been working for years to improve the bay. Now, increasingly, they are working together and taking a big-picture, watershed approach toward achieving that improvement.
The watershed approach is clearly evident in the latest round of Innovative Nutrient and Sediment Reduction (INSR) grants. These 11 EPA-funded grants (totaling $5.8 million and chosen from 89 proposals) were awarded through the National Fish and Wildlife Fund (NFWF) in late summer 2010.
NFWF has been involved with restoration of the Chesapeake Bay since 1999, awarding more than 670 grants totaling over $59 million. Local matching funds have added up to another $100 million.
Under the name Chesapeake Bay Stewardship Fund, NFWF operates both the INSR grant program and the Chesapeake Bay Small Watershed (CBSW) grants. CBSW grants, which totaled $3.4 million in 2010, are for smaller, local-level projects. They range from $20,000 to $200,000.
Amanda Bassow, NFWF’s manager for Chesapeake programs, agrees that the INSR grants reflect the growing trend of considering and creating stormwater projects in relation to their watersheds.
“I would say this is absolutely the case in the Chesapeake from the perspective of state and federal agencies and the nonprofit community that is working aggressively to improvement stormwater management in the region,” says Bassow. “Certainly, individual projects still strive to meet their permit requirements on a site-by-site basis, but in the larger picture, the types of projects we fund strive to restore the landscape function of our built environment, which means they really must have a perspective that is broader than simply one development site or parcel.”
Bassow says that the 2010 INSR awardees “represent the most innovative stormwater projects that were the most likely to have a significant impact on reducing pollution to the Chesapeake from urban stormwater.”
That urban stormwater is in unexpected places. “You see innovative stormwater management that you might perceive to be rural and therefore where stormwater might not be an issue—like Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and the Onancock watershed on Virginia’s Eastern Shore,” notes Bassow.
Farming lands are disappearing from the region. Since “urban stormwater runoff represents the only growing source of nutrient pollution to the Chesapeake, it stands to reason that it is going to be an issue every place that people are building houses, starting businesses, and so on,” explains Bassow. She adds, “It’s great to see these more rural communities getting a leg up on the issue.”
These most recent grants are part of a total of 56 INSR grants made from 2006 to 2010, totaling $32.6 million. INSR grants range from $200,000 to $1 million. They were leveraged with more than $34.2 million of local matching funds. (EPA requires 100% matching for these awards.)
The projects “really represent the state of science, policy, and practice for stormwater,” says Bassow. “Some of the projects are trying to refine the effectiveness of [best management] practices, such as pervious pavement and bioretention, while others are really taking on the big policy questions, like how do local codes and ordinances provide barriers to innovative stormwater management, and how can they, instead, encourage them.”
Regenerative Stormwater Conveyance Wetlands
One of the INSR grants is for the installation of sand seepage regenerative stormwater conveyance (RSC) wetlands on two of the creeks in the Lower Western Shore of Maryland. To the $900,000 grant it received, South River Federation added $3,817,500 in matching funds for this project.
RSC technology uses a high marsh zone (-6 to +6 inches, relative to the normal pool of water) rather than trying to establish plants any lower than 6 inches below the normal pool. It features a greater mix of plants, including trees and shrubs that can thrive in water, for the wetland will do best if it is allowed to evolve over time into a forest.
Water levels don’t fluctuate as much as they did in earlier wetland restoration projects. RSC wetlands are less deep, with gentler side slopes, and definitely not as flat. They include sand weirs, pools, tree roots, and other devices to vary the topography.
RSC, also known as step pool stormwater conveyance, offers another advantage: It can be used inside natural channels without disrupting the adjacent natural ecosystem.
South River Federation chose Church Creek on the South River and Saltworks Creek on the Severn River because they are among the most highly impaired subwatersheds within the Chesapeake watershed. As the land is narrow there, these watersheds are less than half of a mile apart. The RSCs will be less than 3 miles apart.

 

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Watersheds of the Severn and South Rivers are adjoining. Their proximity to Annapolis has subjected both to increasing pollution from expanding impervious surfaces that are inevitable with development.
Church Creek is on the South River. Its watershed is 42% impervious, and it sits downstream of five major shopping centers and two major highways. Saltworks Creek, a tributary of the Severn River, is equally distressed, thanks to runoff from the nearby Bestgate Road and the expanding Westfield Mall, with more development planned. South River Federation will work with the University of Maryland’s Chesapeake Biological Lab to monitor the effectiveness of the RSCs in Church Creek and Saltworks Creek. The two-year monitoring period will assess both reduction of volume and quality of downstream waters.
Photo: River Federation
Church Creek’s is one of the most impaired watersheds in the region.
The RSC projects on these two creeks will create more than 10 acres of high-quality non-tidal wetlands to treat stormwater from watersheds that continue to grow more impervious. Waterfowl and fish will gain much-needed habitat. Sediments and nutrients reaching the Chesapeake Bay will be significantly reduced.
Church Creek’s installation (set for mid-2012) will treat an estimated 2,975 pounds of nitrogen, 905 pounds of phosphorus, and 140 tons of sediment per year. The project on the Cabin Creek branch of Saltworks Creek (scheduled for late 2011) will reduce nitrogen load by 40%, total suspended solids (TSS) by 60%, and phosphorus by 40%.
The two projects should be excellent models of an innovative, cost-effective, and sustainable way to reduce pollution. Chuck Fox, special assistant to the EPA administrator for the Chesapeake Bay, suggested, at a meeting in Annapolis in October 2009, that RSC projects are applicable at many places within the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
Sara Caldes, of the Severn Riverkeeper Program and South River Federation, is project manager for the Cabin Creek Branch/Saltworks Creek installation. She says she has “been pleasantly surprised by the level of support that residents and neighboring property owners have exhibited. To date, everyone has demonstrated a high level of understanding that these are distressed watersheds and a desire to see them improved.”

About Bruce

Work for sustainable development of small islands; ex-Peace Corps (Volunteer and staff) in LA & Caribbean; cruised Caribbean on S/Y Meander for three years; like small tropical islands, French canals, Umbria, Tasmania, and NZ. Married 50 years. Former President (1995 to 2016) of Island Resources Foundation.
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