Capital Gazette Profile: Erik Michelsen, Anne Arundel Watershed Protection and Restoration Program

An excellent profile of the man, and description of the program, by E. B. (Pat) Furgurson III at <>

People to watch:

Erik Michelsen

Watershed Protection and Restoration Program Administrator

Erik Michelsen oversees the administration of the county’s multi-million dollar stormwater program. (By Pat Furgurson / Staff)

“Now we are talking about rolling back that damage over a 10-to-15-year time frame. That’s a tall order.”

With the county’s Watershed Protection and Restoration Program slated to get running at full tilt in 2016 the program’s director Erik Michelsen expects to have a busy year.

Over $600 million is budgeted for hundreds of stormwater projects in the next few years, that’s just over half of the projected cost of the backlog of projects needed to meet federal pollution standards by 2025.

Michelsen is charged with coordinating the many moving pieces leading up to and through project construction, keeping the public informed, and more at the helm of the WPRP.

He is honest about the challenge.

“Up to this point we have been using the land aggressively for a few centuries,” he told The Capital last spring. “Now we are talking about rolling back that damage over a 10-to-15-year time frame. That’s a tall order.”

Michelsen’s previous experience as executive director of the South River Federation prepared him for the task. Much of his work there focused on gearing up the organization’s watershed restoration work.

In 2013 the county passed legislation to fund work through a stormwater fee that costs the majority of property owners in the county $85 a year. And the Watershed Protection and Restoration Program was created. In 2015, the County Council and County Executive Steve Schuh wrestled with proposals to gut the funding legislation and attempt to pay for the program through other means. The measures were defeated and the program survived intact.

Perceptions are part of the part of the myriad of issues ahead. Many believe that once stormwater projects are in place by 2025 per federal mandate, the county’s streams and rivers – and the Chesapeake Bay – will be all cleaned up.

But the reality is that 2025 goal means the infrastructure must be in place to begin the long recovery from 400 years of degradation. Results will not be immediately apparent.

Most of the work in the next few years will concentrate on converting stormwater ponds from mere runoff-holding to runoff-cleansing capacity and repairing stormwater outfalls, where pipes carrying stormwater from neighborhoods empty into creeks or other waterways. Those near the top of the list require less planning, design and permitting to accomplish.

The bulk of larger stream restoration projects that require rebuilding miles of eroded streambeds will come later because they require more intense design work, and permitting from federal and state agencies.

As Michelsen has said the WPRP will have an impact on local waterways first, our streams, then creeks, then rivers.

And results of all the effort will likely be enjoyed by his children, or theirs.

About Bruce

Work for sustainable development of small islands and the Chesapeake Bay; 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 52 years to the late Kincey Burdett Potter (see President of the now-sunsetting Island Resources Foundation.
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