Watershed Protection Fee
Stormwater runoff accounts for over twenty percent of the pollution impacting our local streams and the Chesapeake Bay. Howard County has a strong commitment to address stormwater runoff problems, yet there is a still great deal of work to be done; and it will take all of us working together to reach our water quality goals. This stormwater management challenge provides opportunities for some valuable partnerships between government, non-profits and the business community.
Watershed Protection Fee
Maryland is kicking off a new program to better manage stormwater — rain water that runs off into the environment and is not treated by wastewater treatment plants. The state passed a law in 2012 requiring each County to develop a program to better manage stormwater and to create a fund to pay for those projects.
In January, 2013 County Executive Ulman pre-filed legislation to create a dedicated Watershed Protection Fee — more commonly referred to as the stormwater utility fund. This state-required fund will be fundamental in the County’s efforts to manage the only growing source of pollution to our streams and the Chesapeake Bay.
In the Chesapeake region, before the influence of modern society, stormwater was dampened by an extensive tree canopy and then quickly absorbed into the forest floor. Runoff only occurred during the largest of storms, when stream banks overflowed into surrounding flood plains until the storm passed. Today, with less forest cover and over 19,000 acres of rooftops, driveways, roads and parking lots in the county; runoff cannot soak into the ground, flood plains are often channelized; and stormwater rushes all too quickly off impervious areas, gouging out stream banks, and eroding soils along the way.
Since the advent of stormwater management regulations 25 years ago, designs to manage flow have improved, resulting in a landscape dotted with a variety of management structures, from ponds, to swales, inlets, outlet and hundreds of miles of pipe. All together, Howard County’s stormwater infrastructure represents an investment of over $660 million. Since stormwater runoff is responsible for 20% of the pollution to the Chesapeake Bay, it only makes sense that maintenance of this infrastructure investment is vital to our collective efforts to save our backyard streams and the Bay.
Over the last year, County staff has worked hard to design a watershed restoration fund that addresses stormwater maintenance shortcomings and encompasses new construction projects needed to meet our water quality mandates in a fair and equitable manner. We commissioned a diverse stormwater advisory committee composed of homeowners, business owners, the faith community, the environmental community, the office management community and the engineering community. This group worked tirelessly to understand the challenges, identify issues and work toward a fair assessment of all properties within the community.
Likewise, we met with representatives of the agricultural community to better understand and address their unique situation. Lastly, we routinely gathered with the other area jurisdictions to share ideas, concepts and formulas as we tackled the complex challenges of developing this utility fee.
For more information, go to www.CleanWaterHoward.com
What can I do to help protect our water resources?
Consider installing a rain garden or native landscaping to help absorb stormwater before it reaches a paved surface or storm drain.
Also opt for permeable pavement where possible to allow water to filter into the ground rather than run off of traditional paved surfaces.
The majority of land in Howard County is privately owned, so management practices at individual homes and businesses are critical to these efforts. The following links provide more information about local and regional water resources and ways for individuals and businesses to help improve and protect our water resources.
Local and regional water resources:
Water Resources Element
Columbia Association Watershed Management
Maryland Tributary Strategies
Maryland Streams, Rivers, Watersheds, Coastal Bays, and Chesapeake Bay
NOAA Chesapeake Bay Office
EPA Mid-Atlantic Water Quick Finder
READY — Restoring the Environment And Developing Youth
In summer 2012, PATH (People Acting Together for Howard) and their partner the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, with the financial backing of a grant from Howard County Government, hired and trained about 40 young adults who learned how to develop green solutions to stormwater management issues. Also working with the Alliance were the Parks and People Foundation and the Maryland Sea Grant program. READY program members used their new knowledge to build facilities that reduced the storm runoff that carries sediment and pollutants to our streams and the Chesapeake Bay. Check out this wonderful, 3-minute video about the program. And here is the project brochure.