What is the problem?
With each substantial rainfall, millions of gallons of polluted storm water runoff from parking lots, streets, residences, and commercial buildings pour into Anne Arundel County creeks, rivers and Chesapeake Bay, frequently flooding roads and communities on the way. These floods of water deliver up to 70 potential carcinogens from roads, thousands of pounds of sediment, nitrogen, and phosphorus to the water causing algal blooms and dead zones that threaten crabs and fish. Urban runoff, acre for acre, carries more pollutants than farmland.
The years of pollution have taken their toll and many Anne Arundel waterways are heavily silted, remain cloudy much of the year, and barely support aquatic life. These conditions will not change unless action is taken to reduce the impact of urban storm water runoff.
How big is the problem?
Since storm water from all development prior to the early 1980's was piped directly into waterways with no treatment, the problem is huge. In 1982, laws were passed requiring treatment of storm water. Ponds were designed to control runoff from the large storms. Subsequently, authorities realized that these ponds did not treat 90% of storms, the small storms characteristic of Maryland. Furthermore they did not prevent the most devastating problem - the increased erosion of receiving streams. New stormwater management regulations go a long way toward eliminating these problems, but much development occurred before current regulations were put into effect in 2001.
Anne Arundel County has over 1100 of these ponds. They need to be restored at an average cost of $500,000 each. Crofton Meadows recently borrowed half a million dollars to clean the sediment from their stormwater pond and restore a portion of their stream. Hundreds of streams require restoration to provide stability and habitat for aquatic life. A healthy stream with its normal aquatic community processes nutrients and removes pollutants.
Community Pond in Need of Restoration
Outfall silt/trash accumulated by Storm Water Stream is eroded
Why is a Watershed Restoration Fund the solution?
Currently Anne Arundel County is required to spend $40 million over the next five years to meet Federal and State requirements for Non-Point Source Discharge Elimination (NDPES). The County can deal with only a fraction of the serious storm water problems through its capital budget. Faced with similar problems, over 2000 communities across the U.S. have adopted, or are considering, Ordinances which establish a fee for watershed restoration. These laws create a dedicated Enterprise Fund whose fees, similar to water and sewer fees, can only be used for storm water management and are based on the amount of impervious surface of each homeowner and business. Tying the fee to impervious areas that shed the rain and block the natural infiltration of rain, means that those contributing the most to the problem, pay the most, and provides an incentive to reduce storm water runoff.
How will a Watershed Restoration Fund work?
The Watershed Restoration Fund will charge an annual fee (average is $5 per month) based on an "impervious surface runoff unit" of 2400 square feet, the amount of impervious surface for an average home's roof and driveway. The unit charge is multiplied by the number of runoff units in large parking lots and buildings. Up to a 50% credit will be given where property owners reduce runoff by installing rain gardens, rain barrels, porous pavers, swales and other infiltration techniques modeled after earth's patterns. These techniques attach pollutants so they are no longer water soluble thereby safely restoring base flow to waterways and feeding aquifers from which we draw drinking water. The fee will be charged on property assessment bills.
This fee will bring in $20 million a year for essential storm water restoration projects that cannot be funded in any other way. It will be a dedicated fund that cannot be used for any other purpose . The Department of Public Works will recommend priority projects to the County Council each year. A public hearing and vote will designate a project in each Councilmanic District each year. A year-end report will detail the projects completed.
What can you do to solve the problem?
Endorse and support a Watershed Restoration Fund. Let your Council representative know that you support this solution to preventing runoff pollution and restoring the health of streams and the Chesapeake Bay.
Look at your own property or business to see how you can reduce runoff by using rain barrels, rain gardens and porous paving to lessen your impact on streams and the Bay. These measures will reduce the Storm Water fee.
Talk with your neighbors and friends to enlist their support for a Watershed Restoration Fund. Unless we are all part of the solution we will continue to be part of the problem. Our property values, the rivers and streams in our communities and the health of the Chesapeake Bay all depend on our will to restore what is valuable to us.