Water running into storm drain

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation released a 36-page report Monday urging legislators and local governments to address the only major source of pollution in the Bay that continues to grow: stormwater runoff.

As rain falls onto rooftops, city streets and parking lots, it collects oil, pet waste and other pollutants before running into local waterways. Stormwater can carry with it a mix of trash, fertilizers and chemicals that throw the Chesapeake Bay out of balance, especially when combined with other sources of pollution.

CBF’s report comes as several bills presented in Virginia’s general assembly aim to scale back or delay stormwater laws that would begin to go into effect this summer. And Pennsylvania and Maryland each have about 2,500 miles of rivers and streams that are classified as impaired streams under the federal Clean Water Act due to stormwater pollution.

CBF President Will Baker said that now is the moment to act on stormwater runoff, because it is the source of pollution that has gotten the least attention so far, compared with agricultural, industrial or air pollutants.

“It is the source [of pollution] that continues to grow whereas other sources are being addressed and starting to go down,” Baker said. “ And it’s got great benefits for local communities.”

CBF officials from Virginia and Pennsylvania stressed on Monday that stormwater pollution can be addressed in innovative ways that are not just an expense to communities, but beneficial. Green infrastructure projects like the ones Bay Journal has written about work to absorb and filter runoff by adding plant life and designing innovative structures and neighborhoods.

Lynchburg and Charlottesville are among municipalities in Virginia that have embraced comprehensive stormwater programs that CBF officials say are providing jobs and beautifying the communities while helping to clean up an ongoing issue. Maryland’s stormwater regulations required its nine largest counties and Baltimore to set up stormwater utilities and fees.

CBF’s report also holds up cities like Washington, D.C., as leading the way in scaling back stormwater pollution with innovative techniques.

Yet new stormwater rules passed in Maryland and Virginia continue to receive pushback from local governments, bringing the issue to the forefront of political discussions as states come back to session this year. We wrote last week about the latest legislative developments in both Maryland and Virginia.

If stormwater solutions are such a win-win for communities — resulting in cleaner places to recreate, water to drink and even economic improvement — why the opposition?

“I think we’d be wrong if we didn’t say sometimes these solutions can be viewed as expensive,” Baker said in response to the question. “The trouble is the polluted runoff deniers will report estimated costs that are three to 10 times what they will be. Yes, they’re expensive but nowhere near the cost estimates we’ve seen come out.”

CBF’s report said cost-effective stormwater solutions include planting trees and modifying ditches with wetlands to absorb runoff. It said a new estimate for the cost of reducing this source of pollution in Calvert County, Maryland, for example, came in 96 percent lower than what was initially projected. An estimate in Frederick County, Maryland, dropped 65 percent when more efficient methods were incorporated.

Investments in stormwater through pollution control fees — like those being mandated for many localities in Maryland — can bring a return to local economies of up to 1.7 times the investment, according to a report by the University of Maryland Environmental Finance Center.

The costs and benefits of addressing stormwater will vary greatly in each city, but Baker said his organization has seen programs succeed the most when local officials embrace them as a way to improve their communities. But, above all, many cities are or soon will be mandated by federal and state laws to address the ongoing issue of stormwater runoff.

“The Clean Water Act has mandated this for decades and only recently has it started to get the attention, quite frankly, because some of the easier forms of pollution have been addressed first,” Baker said.

To read a copy of the report, click here.

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