How rain turns into stormwater and the impact that stormwater has on our waterways is on the mind of local, state and federal agencies as they struggle to meet EPA requirements to clean up the streams and rivers flowing into the Chesapeake Bay.

The Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay has been working on several projects in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and the District of Columbia that engage homeowners and communities in simple, effective practices they can do to reduce stormwater pollution. Now — thanks to a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation — the Alliance, together with the Chesapeake Stormwater Network, University of Maryland Sea Grant Extension, Virginia Tech, and Wetlands Watch are gathering lessons learned from other residential stormwater efforts and are building a network for future communication.

Together, we hope to offer a model program for success called Chesapeake RiverWise Communities. This comprehensive program for residential-scale stormwater reduction will offer homeowners, localities and watershed groups the guidance and tools they need to implement and measure the benefits of stormwater best management practices in their communities.

Over the last decade, numerous groups have been looking for innovative ways to reduce stormwater pollution. Rain gardens, rainscapes, bioretention, green roofs, conservation landscaping, nutrient management for lawns and porous pavements have become more commonplace but are not yet routine practices on residential properties.

Finding solutions for meeting today's regulatory requirements and overcoming water quality problems related to stormwater will need the combined effort of governments, nonprofit organizations and the private sector. In addition, reducing stormwater pollution will not only require improvements on public roads and buildings but also the combined efforts of tens of thousands of homeowners. Finding a way to engage homeowners in pollution reduction efforts can be challenging, to say the least.

On Feb. 13–14, the Alliance and its partners presented "A Collaborative Summit: Protecting Water Quality through Actions on Urban-Suburban Properties" in Williamsburg, VA. More than 200 people representing nonprofits; local, state and federal agencies; landscape and nursery businesses; and concerned citizens gathered to share resources and successes in stormwater management on residential properties. Through an open discussion forum, participants shared their insights on key topics such as reaching new audiences, long-term goals, funding incentives, developing technical guidance, innovative stormwater practices and building new partnerships. We also discussed how these efforts relate to the Bay's total maximum daily load and the tracking and monitoring of its progress.

The audience was inspired by programs that already exist to engage homeowners providing food and habitat for wildlife, creating beauty, invoking a sense of place and protecting water quality at the same time. Inspiration led to creative thinking and idea-sharing as the summit participants divided themselves into one of three groups: Regulations, Funding & Accountability; Education, Training & Outreach; and Installation, Design & Maintenance to participate in an innovative conversation and listening process known as "Circle Conversations."

These conversations provided an opportunity for people to really listen to each other's perspectives. After each conversation, the facilitators led the audience through a process that allowed people to vote for the top three issues discussed, shaping the agenda for the second day and making it truly reflective of the greatest needs of the participants.

Summit discussions were framed around this goal:

"We envision 2030 as a time when we've met our collective goal of clean waters, healthy, vibrant habitat, wildlife and economies in Virginia and the Bay region because of a large, widespread increase in actions on individual urban-suburban properties."

The second day's working sessions discussed tracking and implementing residential stormwater management practices; education; social marketing; changing behaviors; contractor training programs; communication and networks; partnerships; monitoring restoration activities; and funding strategies for stormwater runoff reductions, pollution prevention and watershed restoration.

Summit participants generated innovative approaches, identified needed resources, and formed connections and relationships to create a network of experts who can share ideas in the future. Participants left the summit with a sense of true collaboration and were inspired to remain active in protecting water quality through stormwater management.

The Alliance will continue to work with this network to gain additional input, as the Chesapeake RiverWise Communities program develops, by conducting focused workshops to address issues raised at the summit. We are also presenting a Stormwater Professionals Retreat this month.

Through this effort, we hope to challenge the trend toward more impervious area and landscaping that relies on expansive turf lawns. By building stormwater control functions into beautiful low-maintenance landscape designs and increasing our capacity to offer sound technical assistance and incentives to homeowners, we can build a "new normal" for our yards that restores and protects our environment for generations to come.

No one organization can do it alone. The Alliance is dedicated to building strong partnerships committed to public education and outreach. A stewardship ethic among individual homeowners, businesses and communities will result in healthier rivers and streams and increasingly beautiful and "riverwise" communities.