Imagine a program that creates jobs for young adults while protecting the environment and helping local governments meet nutrient reduction quotas put forth by the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load. Now imagine this happening throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed; hundreds of young adults spending their summer break installing rain gardens; planting and watering trees; and engaging community members.

In the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay's efforts to engage communities to take action to protect and restore the Bay and its watershed, we believe an effort such as this could make great strides in helping to improve our local rivers, clean up the Bay in the near term and stimulate community engagement in Bay issues for the future.

In May, the Alliance, together with Howard County Executive Ken Ulman and our partners — PATH (People Acting Together in Howard), the University of Maryland Sea Grant Extension program and the Parks & People Foundation — kicked off the READY program (Restoring the Environment and Developing Youth), a local effort to address two separate but connected issues in Howard County, MD, and other local communities throughout the Bay watershed.

READY is funded by Howard County and designed to meet both environmental and employment goals. Young adults from the county will spend their summer break installing about three dozen rain gardens on institutional properties such as schools and church grounds while earning money and gaining job experience that will help further their careers.

The Alliance believes that the best way to restore the Bay watershed is through a collaborative approach — creating diverse and strong partnerships. This project is a great example of that goal.

PATH, the driving force to get the county involved, is a multi-racial, multi-faith, nonpartisan citizens' organization rooted in local congregations and associations of Howard County. PATH organizes and mobilizes community leaders around issues that directly impact their lives.

Howard County has an aggressive stormwater program that supports green approaches and has provided the resources to implement the project as well as identify sites needing work.

Our Sea Grant partners bring a strong training and technical design background. Parks & People is helping to evaluate success and share their experience working with youth. These partners, along with the supportive citizens of Howard County, will ensure the success of the project.

"This partnership could not be more timely," Ulman said. "Howard County is about to receive new mandates from the Maryland Department of the Environment that will require considerable effort to reduce our stormwater impacts on area streams and the Bay.

"Employing and training our youth in this emerging green industry sector and then taking on projects to address the demands of our new stormwater permit is a win both for our young adults and the environment."

In this first year of the partnership, the Alliance has hired 30 young adults from Howard County with the hope that our proven success this year will lead to additional years where we can put more young adults to work and see them take on even greater and more diverse stormwater reduction and stream restoration activities.

We hope the READY project will serve as a model that other local jurisdictions in the watershed can consider when making decisions about spending on stormwater infrastructure.

Supporting job growth in local communities while saving money and reducing stormwater runoff could be a way to improve both the health of local streams and the health of the local community at the same time.