Proper lawn, plant care will help prevent runoff

The Chesapeake Bay and its diverse ecosystem are precious and valuable resources that are impacted by what individuals, communities and businesses do miles and miles upstream as well as close to its shores.

More than 150 rivers and streams from the District of Columbia and parts of six states - Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia - feed into the Bay, bringing along stormwater runoff that affects the quality of the local streams and the Chesapeake.

In the Washington, DC, metropolitan area, millions of people can make a significant difference in managing stormwater runoff right from their homes.

How? Plant more plants, including grass. Vegetation will help control the runoff that enters our storm sewers and waterways and eventually ends up in the Bay.

A healthy lawn, with its deep root system, acts like a sponge and effectively absorbs rainfall, keeping the water on one's property. It also knits together the soil to help hold back moving stormwater and the debris and pollutants that it picks up along the way.

Homeowners should also clean up after caring for their yards by sweeping grass clippings, leaves and fertilizers off sidewalks and driveways. This will help keep nutrients from being washed away during a storm. In addition, use stormwater collection techniques, such as rain barrels, to capture rainfall and then release it where it was intended - on your plants.

The Scotts Miracle-Gro Company has been engaged in protecting the Chesapeake Bay since 2006, when we officially announced plans to reduce the phosphorus content of our lawn maintenance fertilizers by 50 percent. We have since expanded that commitment, and our lawn maintenance fertilizers will be phosphorus-free by the end of 2012.

Scotts Miracle-Gro has also pledged to educate consumers on best lawn care and gardening practices that help the environment. On July 21, we and the Virginia Conservation Network presented an open forum in Northern Virginia to discuss community-based solutions for protecting the Chesapeake Bay and its headwaters.

A lot of good work is under way by community leaders, governments, universities and environmental advocates, but individual property owners are also important in this mission.

To restore the Bay and maintain its water quality, a total team effort - individual actions, public-private partnerships, government leadership and multi-state coordination - is needed. We want to be part of this collaboration and encourage homeowners to do their part in keeping nutrients and stormwater on their property.

Rich Shank, Chief Environmental Officer
The Scotts Miracle-Gro Company

Duckweed, solar panels along ditches could create energy, reduce runoff

There are ways to reduce nutrient runoff from farms that over time would cost the state nothing. Soil Conservation Drainage Systems normally have a 50-foot right-of-way on both sides of the ditch for the purpose of spoil placement when the drainage ditch requires a cleanout.

In Sussex County, DE, each farmer can request a waiver for one side of the ditch allowing him to create a buffer zone for 50 or more feet. An array of solar panels could be placed in this buffer zone to generate electricity that the state could buy for a set price per kilowatt with a cost-of-living adjustment. This contract could run for up to 25 years, allowing the state to have a low-cost, budget-stable source of electricity for its agency buildings.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has grants available to farmers for renewable energy projects. They pay for 25 percent of the project and guarantee another 50 percent of the loan. If the state were to sell bonds to make up the other 25 percent and enter into a contract with the newly formed cooperative; they could receive 25 percent of the electricity and 25 percent of the revenue received from selling the solar renewable energy credits until the state has been paid back and the bonds are retired.

The farmer would also receive financial compensation for creating the buffers with the solar panels. This would earn more per acre than crop farming and therefore create a strong incentive to become a member of the cooperative.

Environmental Concern, a nonprofit based in St. Michaels, MD, sells low-growing grasses that could be planted around the solar panels to reduce the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus entering the drainage system.

Cooperative employees would keep the sides of the ditches maintained and the solar panels cleaned at no out-of-pocket cost for either state, county or local government.

Other low-cost procedures could be allocated to the cooperative, such as growing and harvesting duckweed in all non-navigable waterways. Duckweed acts like a sink and consumes nitrogen and phosphorus in addition to other pollutants from the water.

These procedures - along with sediment traps to catch silt from erosion - which must to cleaned out when necessary, could help to reach the EPA's total maximum daily load without breaking the bank.

David O. Rickards
Birdsong Gardens
Frankford, DE