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Out of the Shadows

The for­got­ten util­ity is com­ing out of the shadows.

For the last 18 months I have been blog­ging about the under­funded and often mis­un­der­stood stormwa­ter man­age­ment pro­gram. After years on the back burner, the sta­tus of this impor­tant envi­ron­men­tal pro­gram is about to change. Last week, County Exec­u­tive Ulman intro­duced leg­is­la­tion to cre­ate a ded­i­cated Water­shed Pro­tec­tion and Restora­tion Fund — more com­monly referred to as the stormwa­ter util­ity fund. This fund, required by State law, is fun­da­men­tal in our efforts to man­age the only grow­ing source of pol­lu­tion to our streams and the Chesa­peake Bay.

In the Chesa­peake region, before the influ­ence of mod­ern soci­ety, stormwa­ter was damp­ened by an exten­sive tree canopy and then quickly absorbed into the for­est floor. Runoff only occurred dur­ing the largest of storms, when stream banks over­flowed into sur­round­ing flood plains until the storm passed. Today, with less for­est cover and over 19,000 acres of rooftops, dri­ve­ways, roads and park­ing lots in the county; runoff can­not soak into the ground, flood plains are often chan­nel­ized; and stormwa­ter rushes all too quickly off imper­vi­ous areas, goug­ing out stream banks, and erod­ing soils along the way.

Since the advent of stormwa­ter man­age­ment reg­u­la­tions 25 years ago, designs to man­age flow have improved, result­ing in a land­scape dot­ted with a vari­ety of man­age­ment struc­tures, from ponds, to swales, inlets, out­let and hun­dreds of miles of pipe. All together, Howard County’s stormwa­ter infra­struc­ture rep­re­sents an invest­ment of over $660 mil­lion. Since stormwa­ter runoff is respon­si­ble for 20% of the pol­lu­tion to the Chesa­peake Bay, it only makes sense that main­te­nance of this infra­struc­ture invest­ment is vital to our col­lec­tive efforts to save our back­yard streams and the Bay.

Over the last year, County staff have worked hard to design a water­shed restora­tion fund that addresses stormwa­ter main­te­nance short­com­ings and encom­passes new con­struc­tion projects needed to meet our water qual­ity man­dates in a fair and equi­table man­ner. We com­mis­sioned a diverse stormwa­ter advi­sory com­mit­tee com­posed of home­own­ers, busi­ness own­ers, the faith com­mu­nity, the envi­ron­men­tal com­mu­nity, the office man­age­ment com­mu­nity and the engi­neer­ing com­mu­nity. This group worked tire­lessly to under­stand the chal­lenges, iden­tify issues and work toward a fair assess­ment of all prop­er­ties within the community.

Like­wise, we met with rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the agri­cul­tural com­mu­nity to bet­ter under­stand and address their unique sit­u­a­tion. Lastly, we rou­tinely gath­ered with the other area juris­dic­tions to share ideas, con­cepts and for­mu­las as we tack­led the com­plex chal­lenges of devel­op­ing this util­ity fee.

In the com­ing months, dis­cus­sions will be tak­ing place all over the region as juris­dic­tions begin to define the specifics of this State man­dated fee. If you, your club, group, con­gre­ga­tion or orga­ni­za­tion would like to learn more about the what why and how of the stormwa­ter util­ity, just let me know and I will be happy to sched­ule time to dis­cuss the details with you.

Jim Cald­well

Jan­u­ary 2013

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