The Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s 2012 State of the Bay Report tells us the health of the Chesapeake Bay has improved 14 percent since 2008. But that doesn’t tell the whole story.
Throughout Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia, we hear about local governments, businesses, and citizens rolling up their sleeves to reduce pollution from all sectors, agriculture, sewage treatment plants, and urban and suburban runoff. They are working to restore local rivers and streams. That is the goal of the federal/state Chesapeake clean water blueprint (formally known as the TMDL and state Watershed Implementation Plans). The blueprint, if fully implemented with programs in place by 2025, will restore clean water throughout the Chesapeake’s 64,000 square mile watershed.
In south-central Pennsylvania, Warwick Township’s citizens—farmers, school children, businessmen, civic groups, and the township board of supervisors—pitched in to implement a comprehensive watershed management plan for Lititz Run.
Building on stream restoration efforts started in the early 1990s, Girl Scouts turned old barrels into rain barrels, and in turn homeowners used the devices to reduce stormwater flow. Every industrial park in the township modified its stormwater system to reduce runoff. The township preserved 20 farms and 1,318 farm acres from future development using “Transferable Development Rights.” Eagle Scouts placed “No Dumping, Drains to the Stream” signs on all the storm drains in the township.
The Result: Lititz Run has been re-designated by the State as a cold-water fishery and now supports a healthy brook trout population.
Just a little south of Lititz, the Lancaster City government is making significant investments in green infrastructure. The green roofs, porous pavers in alleyways, rain barrels, and other innovative technologies put in place there will absorb rainwater instead of allowing it to run off carrying pollution to the Conestoga River. Not only will water quality be improved, but these actions will improve the quality of life for all residents.
In Maryland, Harford, Somerset, and Wicomico counties decided to better manage sprawl to reduce associated water and air pollution and preserve their rural character.
In the small town of Forest Heights, Md., Mayor Jacqueline E. Goodall wants local government to lead by example. Town stormwater drains into Oxon Run, which in turn flows to the polluted Potomac River. So the town recently installed new bio-retention ponds, a cistern, and three 250-gallon rain barrels at the town administration building. Previously, the town had installed a vegetated green roof on the building, as well as solar panels, and energy-efficient interior features. Forest Heights actively sought grants for the latest project, reducing the overall cost 90 percent. Now, the town is encouraging its 2,400 residents to do their part: limit car washing and pesticide spraying, install rain barrels, and take other measures.
And Talbot County, Md., has undertaken an innovative pilot program to use existing farm and street ditches to purify runoff. County-wide, this strategy could save tens of millions of dollars.
In Virginia this year, the Governor and legislature allocated $216 million in new funds for local water improvement efforts, the largest investment in clean water in years. This investment will pay for upgrading wastewater treatment plants, improving stormwater runoff controls, and reducing combined sewer overflows. These actions will help produce healthier streams and rivers across the Commonwealth, stimulate local economies, and help Virginia meet its 2017 Chesapeake Bay cleanup goals.
Falls Church, Va., officials reduced the initial cost estimates for improving storm water management by 60 percent through the use of “green infrastructure.” And in Charlottesville, Va., city officials recognized the damage done by stormwater to the Rivanna River and passed a stormwater fee to aid in restoration.
We hope these actions and the many others like them inspire other local governments, businesses, and individuals to implement the Chesapeake clean water blueprint. It is the right thing to do, and it is the legacy we want to leave for our children and grandchildren.
We’re more than half way to our goal of reducing water pollution. Much work remains, but momentum is building. And each person, business, and locality that takes action increases our ability to finish the job in our lifetime.