An earthquake, and then a flood, forced officials to repair a parking lot retaining wall in hilly Ellicott City, MD. The wall, already weakened by the magnitude 5.8 quake that shook the East Coast in 2011, was damaged a month later when Tropical Storm Lee took its toll on the historic business district of shops and restaurants.
Howard County’s innovative repair job did more than restore the wall — it netted the community an architecturally designed staircase, showy native gardens, a waterfall, less stormwater pollution of the Patapsco River and a BUBBA.
BUBBA stands for Best Urban Best Management Practice in the Bay Award, given to the Howard County project last month by the Chesapeake Stormwater Network. The nonprofit, which is located in Ellicott City, launched the BUBBA contest a few years ago to recognize stormwater projects or practices that achieve substantial water quality improvement in a challenging urban environment. It was accorded “best in show” honors from the winners of eight different categories of stormwater control projects.
Howard County’s problem of a failing retaining wall and restricted access to the parking lot could have been solved easily without adding stormwater management. But Jim Caldwell, director of the county Office of Community Sustainability, knew his options for stormwater management in a 250-year-old community were limited. Convincing staff wasn’t easy, though.
“There was a lot of apprehension, Caldwell said. “Our public works department wanted to fix the wall and walk away, and they wanted to build a stairway and walk away. This is the first modern BMP in town.”
Howard County hired the McCormick Taylor engineering firm to design a solution that would not only repair the stone wall but also improve access to the parking lot and treat runoff from two acres of pavement and buildings in the Circuit Court Complex atop a bluff overlooking the parking lot. Adding to the complexity of the project were nearly vertical slopes, buried utilities and the need to meet building standards in a community that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
What McCormick Taylor came up with suggests that managing stormwater can be visually arresting. During heavy rainfalls, runoff from the courthouse complex washes into a flume that is tunneled underneath the staircase and empties into a series of areas densely planted with native vegetation. These “bioretention cells” retain some water, so it can be soaked up by soil and plants. The excess spills into a rock channel forming a waterfall and into another cell below.
Ellicott City’s new stormwater BMP is highly visible among the steep slopes, restaurants and shops of its busy Main Street. The new staircase increases pedestrian access to the courthouse and the cultural attractions below, and it enhances safety getting to Parking Lot E, which otherwise required walking on the dimly lit, blind curve of Court Avenue. The spectacle of a waterfall amid skilled stone work can’t be missed by those using the stairway —especially during a rainstorm.
The project has proven its durability, as it was unscathed after last summer’s flash flood, which devastated much of downtown historic Ellicott City.
The cost of the entire project totaled $3.4 million. The stormwater portion of design and construction was roughly $1.5 million, which came from Howard County stormwater fees. The cost was well within the average for stormwater BMPs in an ultra-urban environment, Caldwell said.
Under federal and state regulations, Howard County has to treat runoff from 2,000 acres of pavement and buildings. The Ellicott City BMP manages 2 acres of that amount. The value of the project is that many people who visit Ellicott City can see the stormwater management incorporated into an architecturally attractive staircase, Caldwell said. He added that any construction in a 250-year old city that is built out is going to be expensive.
“People need to understand that it is our responsibility to manage stormwater created because of our impervious surfaces. It’s a service to have stormwater taken away. No one expects to get electricity for free. If we could have a 1,000 more of these maybe we wouldn’t suffer as much flooding in Ellicott City,” Caldwell said.
For details about the Chesapeake Stormwater Network’s BUBBAs, visit chesapeakestormwater.net/the-bubbas/2017-bubbas-2/.
Hubba BUBBA! These projects look pretty good for the Bay
The Chesapeake Stormwater Network, an organization that connects nearly 10,000 stormwater professionals in the Bay watershed, created the Best Urban BMP in the Bay (BUBBA) contest to recognize innovative projects in stormwater management in eight categories. Each BUBBA listed here won first place in its respective category, chosen by a jury of independent professionals. The grand prize BUBBA — which Howard County won this year — was then chosen via electronic voting.
Best Residential BMP - Jagielski Native Habitat
Project Team: Stephen Linenfelser - Native Restorations, LLC; Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay; RiverSmart Homes - District Department of Energy & the Environment
This rain garden and conservation landscaping project in a hilly neighborhood of the District of Columbia created songbird and pollinator habitat. It is also a certified monarch butterfly waystation, complete with educational signage.
Best Habitat Creation in a BMP - Four Mile Run Wetland Restoration
Project Team: Rummel, Klepper & Kahl; Environmental Quality Resources; City of Alexandria, VA
The restored 2-acre wetland system includes a low marsh zone, a high marsh zone and an upland meadow to provide terrestrial and aquatic habitat improvements for frogs, songbirds and native pollinators while treating stormwater runoff.
Best BMP Retrofit - James Terrace Water Quality Improvement Project
Project Team: James City County (VA) Stormwater Division; Kerr Environmental Services Corp; GET Solutions
The three-phase project consists of a bioretention swale and two regenerative stormwater conveyance channels installed across four private properties. It improved water quality, restored wetland functions, reduced property flooding and enhanced the aesthetics of the site.
Best Education & Outreach Program - Teaching a Community in English & Spanish to Plant a Community Forest
Project Team: Town of Edmonston, MD
The town of Edmonston has a population of 1,500 residents; approximately 48 percent are Latino and 35 percent are African American. The town hosted three bilingual charrettes to receive community input on the project design of a new green street. As a result, the project team selected tree species similar to those found in Central America and Mexico. Volunteers planted three edible forests using native fruit trees.
Best Industrial Site - Riparian Buffer at Harrisonburg Public Works Facility
Project Team: Harrisonburg (VA) Public Works Department, Rainwater Management Systems
This project combines on-the-ground work with an education and training campaign to identify, prevent and control pollutant discharges from the property, as well as a riparian buffer planting and cistern installations to reduce and treat stormwater runoff from the site.
Best Stream Restoration - North Cypress Branch Stream & Wetland Restoration
Project Team: Anne Arundel County; Clear Creeks Consulting; BayLand Consultants and Designers; Underwood and Associates; Angler Environmental
This project created or enhanced 7.4 acres of nontidal wetland in a highly urbanized watershed. It used a variety of techniques, including the creation of both headwater and seepage wetlands, floodplain reconnection and natural channel design.
Best Maintained BMP - The Dell at the University of Virginia
Project Team: UVA Facilities Management Landscaping; UVA Facilities Management Utilities; UVA Facilities Management Environmental Resources
Built in 2003, this exceptionally maintained hybrid BMP combines the benefits of a stream daylighting project, a wet pond with forebay and the surrounding restored riparian habitat. The UVA Landscape Department conducts routine, sometimes daily, inspections to remove trash, identify and remove invasive species and manage geese populations.