How to Use Social Media as a Quick Research Tool

People often log in to social media sites when they are, well, socializing.  We view our newsfeeds and update our statuses during our breaks at work or when we get off work.  But what about using social media at work as a research tool?

In the last few years, the content on social media has evolved to become much more than teens’ selfies and pictures of adorable cats with poor grammar.  It has become a place where various professionals share information.

Pinterest is an excellent research tool, especially for the visual learner.  Users present concepts in easily digestible infographics and pictures.  Each one has a link to the website if you wish to learn more.  The site also helps the researcher organize their sources by “pinning” them to different boards.

Even Twitter has educational benefits.  These days there is a hashtag for almost any topic; Google a topic to find a hashtag.  The researcher has access to a professional conversation about a certain topic with each entry of 140 characters or less.  Again, small, digestible information with links if the tweet sparks the viewer’s curiosity.  The researcher can even join in the conversation by using the hashtag in their tweet.

Google+ is another place to find organized content from professionals.  Although most of us are still trying to figure it out, you do have an account if you use Gmail.  Like Twitter, Google+ uses hashtags, but you can also utilize the Communities feature to explore a particular topic.

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So next time you need to familiarize yourself with an unfamiliar topic quickly, log on to Pinterest, Twitter, or Google+.  You can truthfully tell your boss that you are on social media for work!

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Three Ways to Prevent Costly Soil Erosion Repairs on Your Property

Soil erosion from stormwater occurs when rainfall displaces and transports soil due the impact of raindrops or the flow of runoff.  Erosion always results in sedimentation, which occurs when runoff flow slows, allowing the loosened soil particles to settle.  Sedimentation negatively affects aquatic life, natural habitat, and can increase maintenance of stormwater infrastructure.  Upstream erosion and the resultant sedimentation in stormwater facilities results in increased costs of stormwater maintenance.  The following are three ways you can prevent erosion.

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Regularly check the stormwater facility on your property for areas of soil erosion.  Small repairs can occur in conjunction with routine maintenance by qualified personnel, whereas larger repairs can cost thousands of dollars.  Being proactive with small erosion repairs will avert extensive erosion and more expensive repairs.


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Vary slope mowing patterns

Make sure mowing crews mow in different directions to prevent rutting and eroding soil.

 


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Protect the inflow path into your stormwater facility with appropriate riprap or other materials to prevent soil erosion.  This will help infiltrate the stormwater runoff if current soil conditions are not sufficient.

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Environmental Site Design Workshop at The Engineer’s Club

Stormwater Maintenance & Consulting’s Ted Scott and Chesapeake Stormwater Network’s Tom Schueler will be presenting a workshop for Environmental Site Design for the Maryland Society of Professional Engineers (MDSPE) for engineers working in stormwater management and site design. The full day of instruction will include:

  • Background about ESD and the evolution of Chapter 5 of Maryland’s Stormwater Design Manual
  • ESD practices – description and development/redevelopment considerations
  • Practice using open-source spreadsheets for computations (Attendees can bring a laptop.  ESD spreadsheets may be downloaded ahead of time.)
  • Design problems and examples
  • Roundtable discussion

Click here for full agenda and to register.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014  |  8:00 AM – 4:30 PM

The Engineer’s Club  |  11 West Mount Vernon Place  |  Baltimore, MD 21201

Attendees will gain 7 Professional Development Hours

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What are the Impacts of all that Road Salt?

IMG_0993After a winter as harsh as the one we’ve just experienced, one question lingering in our minds is, what is the environmental impact of all that road salt?

Maryland’s State Highway Administration reports using 480,000 tons of salt this past winter.  The average for the previous 6 years is about 211,000 tons.

As snow melts, it carries road salt into waterways that are normally fresh water. Salt laden snowmelt can flow directly into streams, or partially infiltrate into the ground via roadside stormwater facilities.  Streams are fed by groundwater that flows to the surface.  According to a report by Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR), some plants and animals can tolerate the spikes in salinity levels that follow a snowfall event, and others cannot.  (Several other sources are also referenced – see below.)

Screen Shot 2014-04-04 at 3.10.31 PMNear the bottom of the food chain, mayflies, stoneflies, and caddisflies are particularly sensitive to changes in salinity.  These insects are an important food source for birds and fish.  Brook trout is noted as a fish species found in Maryland streams most sensitive to changes in salinity.  Many types of amphibians, such as frogs and salamanders, are affected by increased salinity, especially those that lay eggs near the bottom of ponds where salt concentrations are highest.

Studies show that birds that ingest salt crystals can die within 45 minutes.  Salt can also be fatal to other small animals, such as rodents, that eat leaves coated in salt dust, or breathe it in.

photo 3Roadside grasses and other vegetation can be killed off by road salt.  These plants are important for preventing soil erosion.  All types of vegetation, even trees, can be killed off, or at least weakened, by road salt when they are coated in it due to spray from traffic, or by taking up salty snowmelt through their roots.

Studies also show that road salt increases salinity in our drinking water reservoirs.  Measurements of salinity in reservoirs going back to the 1980s show a steady increase over the past few decades.

Removing ice and snow from roadways is important for creating safer driving conditions during and after snowfall events, so, do any alternatives to salt even exist?  

Sand can help with traction and it is already often mixed with road salt, but used by itself it does not melt ice.  Calcium magnesium acetate is one alternative, however it is expensive and could also have negative ecological impacts.  8071468502_222afbb7b3_zBeet juice has been used as a more natural, biodegradable de-icer, however it also costs more than salt and it ma
y not have been as effective.  Cheese brine has also been used, and while it is a good idea to find uses for manufacturing by-products, its ecological impacts are unstudied, and therefore unknown.  MDE’s web page, “411 on Road Salt” says that Maryland’s SHA has been experimenting with all of these alternatives as well as finding ways to reduce the amount of salt they use.

One piece of good news is that pretreating roads with salt brine, a relatively new practice, can reduce the use of salt in multiple ways.  Brine can’t be blown away by wind or bounced off the road by traffic, so waste is reduced.  This pre-treatment also begins to melt snow as soon as snowflakes touch the road, which makes it more efficient, resulting in less salt needed throughout a snowfall event.

For further reading, see the resources used for this blog post:

Stranko, Scott, Rebecca Bourquin, Jenny Zimmerman, Michael Kashiwagi, Margaret McGinty, and Ron Klauda. Do Road Salts Cause Environmental Impacts? Rep. N.p.: Maryland Department of Natural Resources, 2013.

Siegel, Lori, Ph.D., PE. Hazard Identification for Human and Ecological Effects of Sodium Chloride Road Salt. Rep. N.p.: New Hampshire Department of Environmental Resources, 2007.

Pomeroy, Courtney. “Harsh Winter Doubles Normal Md. Road Salt Use, Sparking Environmentalist Concern.” CBSLocal. CBS DC, 13 Mar. 2014. Web. 04 Apr. 2014. <http://washington.cbslocal.com/2014/03/13/harsh-winter-doubles-normal-md-road-salt-use-sparking-environmentalist-concern/>.

Montero, Jorge. “A Briny Challenge to Cleaning the River.” Web log post. AWS Blog. Anacostia Watershed Society, 18 Feb. 2014. Web. 4 Apr. 2014. <http://www.anacostiaws.org/news/blog/briny-challenge-cleaning-river>.

“The 411 on Road Salt.” The 411 on Road Salt. Maryland Department of the Environment, n.d. Web. 04 Apr. 2014. <http://www.mde.state.md.us/programs/Marylander/Pages/roadSalt.aspx>.

 

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Bioretention Illustrated is now available as a mobile app!

COPT 20120809 041One of Chesapeake Stormwater Network’s (CSN) many projects, Bioretention Illustrated, is a guide to inspecting bioretention facilities. Because this type of low-impact design practice is still new to some, CSN created a visual guide showing all the potential problems that an inspector should be trained to look for. Stormwater Maintenance and Consulting (SMC) is pleased to have been involved with its creation. The guide can be downloaded for free on the CSN website.

And now Bioretention Illustrated has been taken to the next level as an app for your mobile device.

Using web-based data collection software (in this case Fulcrum), an inspector can use this app like a checklist to collect data in the field by filling in the form on a smartphone or tablet. The app includes input of photos and GPS data. All the data will then be downloadable as a spreadsheet or as individual PDF reports.

The Bioretention Illustrated app can be found here.

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Why Inspections Are Important

Some ask us why it is important to inspect stormwater infrastructure on an annual basis. For owners, inspections are the best way to ensure their facilities are functioning correctly. Inspections can also reduce the cost of maintenance by catching small problems before they grow into more expensive issues.

We recently encountered a situation that illustrated a more urgent reason to inspect — to make sure the operators (or tenants) are not discharging illicit materials (i.e. pollutants that should not end up in the natural environment) into the stormwater system. We are not naming any names in order to protect identities. Our client, the local municipality, will be taking care of enforcement.

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A dark stain on the concrete at the mouth of the inlet.

Behind a restaurant in a shopping center our inspectors spotted two signs that illegal dumping was taking place. There was a dark residue at the opening of the water quality structure they were inspecting, and there were noodles and grease inside the structure. Apparently, the restaurant operator was not aware of the environmental damage that grease can do because they were not using the proper procedure for disposal, which is to send it to a rendering facility. Our inspectors immediately contacted the client to make them aware of the situation.

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Noodles found inside an underground facility.

At that point our job was done and we suspect the restaurant operators will have a visit from the authorities and will be responsible for cleanup, a change in operations, and quite possibly a fine.

While it saddens us to know that many (maybe even most?) people do not understand the ramifications of actions like these, these situations certainly make us feel proud that our work contributes to improving the environment – one stormwater facility at a time.

We encounter many circumstances of illicit discharges in the normal course of our work. Here are some photos of other examples:

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Oil in a flowing stream in the Washington D.C. area

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Raw sewage leaking from a broken sewer main in Baltimore County. Sewage is usually indicated by cloudy or milky-looking water.

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A toxic soup – plus trash – discharging from a storm drain pipe in the Baltimore area.

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Taking Stormwater Management Home

After we told our neighbor we were planning to construct a rain garden, she asked us whether it would have any floating aquatic plants. We said, “Oh, no, it’s not going to hold water. It will fill up after a rain but then the water will seep into the ground within 48 hours.” Then she asked us if we were planning to keep fish in it.

I wasn’t surprised to hear this, though, because not a lot of people are familiar with the concept of stormwater management. I’ve worked for Stormwater Maintenance and Consulting for a number of years, looking at plans, inspecting facilities, writing up reports and estimating repairs. For this particular home project, that experience was certainly helpful, but not all necessary. Any homeowner who wants to do a bit of research, and can wield a shovel can design and construct one themselves.

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We have a small yard, but the downspout just happened to empty onto a 25′ x 5′ section of grass that is separated from the rest of the yard by a sidewalk. The first step was to dig a test pit. This meant digging a 1′ x 1′ x 1′ hole and filling it with water. All we had to do after that was check on it to see if the water infiltrated within 24 hours, and luckily ours did. This meant our soil was not too compacted, nor too “clayey” to allow water to infiltrate.

Then my husband and I ripped out all the turf in order to dig a shallow basin that will receive the water from our roof (as well as part of our neighbor’s since we live in attached housing and her roof slopes toward ours). This was tiring but gleeful work because we knew we NEVER wanted to mow that useless patch of grass again!

After the basin was dug out and mulched, we planted the landscaping which included tall grasses in the back and short grasses to border the front. We chose to install a lot of flowers for color throughout the spring, summer and even into the fall. There are also a few shrubs that will have bright red berries in the winter.

So, what are some of the benefits of building a rain garden?

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  • Beautiful, low maintenance landscaping – A rain garden is full of hearty, typically native, perennials, that can handle both wet and dry conditions.
  • Native plants help native species – In particular, the plants we purchased have been inundated by monarch butterfly larvae, who attached their chrysalises to them.
  • Reducing our stormwater footprint – Stormwater that runs off of hard surfaces such as our roof, sidewalk, and parking pad, flows to the alleyway picking up pollutants as well as contributing to huge spikes in volume in nearby streams. By keeping some of our runoff on site and letting it slowly seep into the water table, we’re doing our part to reduce erosion and pollution effecting Herring Run, the Back River, and the Chesapeake Bay. In some areas, large rain events also contribute to sewage overflows, which, in case you didn’t know, means raw sewage ends up in waterways – toilet paper and all.
  • And, as already mentioned… less mowing!

We’ve already seen our rain garden perform admirably in a 1.3 inch rain event. It was completely full, and had even overflowed (exactly it was designed it to), and within 24 hours the pool of water had soaked into the ground. The plants are flourishing so far, and I can’t wait to see them – and photograph them – flowering next year.

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Baltimore Harbor Received a C- But Still Needs Improvement

The Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore, Blue Water Baltimore, and EcoCheck have released the 2012 Healthy Harbor Report Card giving Baltimore Harbor a C- for water quality.

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Stormwater Maintenance & Consulting is proud to have been involved with projects that have contributed toward Harbor restoration efforts.​

A C- isn’t great, but some may be surprised that the grade was so high for the Harbor.  The reported reason is that 2012 was a very dry year.  Even though there was significant rainfall during Hurricane Sandy, the total rainfall for 2012 was only about 34 inches, 8 inches less than the average 42 inches of rain, according to NOAA.  This meant that fewer pollutants were carried from hard surfaces throughout the watershed into the harbor.  It also meant that the sewage system had fewer chances of overflowing or leaching due to infiltrated stormwater.  So if the total rainfall in 2013 is closer to the average, the grade may go down when the next report card is released.

Baltimore’s Middle Branch and Mainstem Patapsco River each received a D+.

Algae, dissolved oxygen, water clarity, and nutrients were the factors that went into the overall grades.  These are the indicators of ecological health used by EcoCheck’s scientists to determine that the Harbor met their standards only 40% of the time.

Trash and bacteria are also being tracked by the initiative.  They are not factors in the overall grade, but they are important to humans who might use the water for recreation.

Within the Report Card, some of the actions currently being taken to clean the harbor are described:

  • Individual actions include efforts like the addition of rain gardens and rain barrels at home.
  • Organizations around Baltimore organize trash cleanups, tree plantings, painting of storm drains, and educational programs in classrooms.
  • Baltimore City government has increased street sweeping and will soon be starting a program called WatershedStat to track the conditions of water at stormwater outfalls.
  • At the state level, the Stormwater Utility Fee was created.  It is a fee charged by counties and by Baltimore city for impervious surfaces to create a fund for stormwater runoff reduction efforts.  (You can read more about it on our website.)
  • A Bag Bill – to charge shoppers for each plastic bag they use – and a Bottle Bill – to create a statewide bottle deposit – were attempted but not passed in 2012 but proponents will continue to push for this legislation in 2013.

The main message from the Report Card is that the Harbor still has a long way to go before it becomes swimmable and fishable by the target year of 2020, but with the combined efforts of people and organizations who care, there is hope.

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There Is No Poop Fairy

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First:  Please know that we love our pets.  This post is about human behavior, not pets!

Have you heard of the Poop Fairy?  The first thing you should know about her is that she doesn’t exist.  Many municipalities use the myth of the Poop Fairy in campaigns to remind residents that there is no magical way to make dog poop “go away”.

Just like with littering, some people may not realize the impact their behavior has on waterways, and some may simply not care.  Some may even think it’s good to leave it to fertilize the grass.

Besides the immediate issues, like the fact that it looks bad, smells gross, and that unfortunate (and subsequently irate) people step in it, there are plenty of other reasons cities are campaigning to decrease the doo doo:

  • Nutrients – Pet waste adds to nutrient pollution, which in turn increases algal blooms which block light for aquatic life and deplete the water of oxygen when it decays.
  • Bacteria – E. coli, giardia, and salmonella.
  • Parasites – Roundworms, hookworms, and cryptosporidium.
  • It lasts – Dog poop doesn’t break down quickly because of the foods we feed them.  It sticks around and builds up in parks, or washes down storm drains during rain events.
  • It is concentrated – Any open space that has access to pets can become ground zero for these pollutants, especially in urban areas that have limited open space areas.  With highly concentrated use, stormwater runoff from these areas is a toxic soup.

In short, research is showing that this is a significant part of urban pollution.  The chart below shows the estimated amount of waste being left on the ground by dog owners in the city of Baltimore alone:

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Stormwater in Baltimore washes dog waste (that’s thousands of tons per year) into storm drains, then streams like Herring Run or Jones Falls, and then Baltimore Harbor and the Chesapeake Bay.

737441_491444140897447_1544026708_oThe best methods for dealing with dog waste are to seal it in a bag and dispose of it in the regular trash, which bothers some because it might never break down in a landfill, or you could flush it so it will be treated along with other sewage.  Cat waste, however, should not be flushed because a parasite common to felines, Toxoplasma Gondii, is not killed by regular sewage treatment methods.

Check out these sites for more info:

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Storm Drain Art

As reflected by the EPA’s TMDL (Total Maximum Daily Loads), Baltimore City has a very real trash problem.  For a wide variety of socioeconomic reasons, litter is thrown on the streets or often tossed directly into storm drain catch basins.  It could be because people simply don’t think about it, don’t care where their trash ends up, or perhaps they believe there is a magical filtration plant removing trash before it reaches waterways.

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Litter in Baltimore Harbor – photo by Adam Lindquist

Broadcasting a message that compels people to change their behavior is a tricky task, but simple and straightforward is often the best way.  Blue Water Baltimore has been helping neighborhoods paint their storm drains with slogans like, “A Healthy Harbor Starts Here” and “Trash in the Street Pollutes What We Eat” with paintings of fish, oysters, and, this is Baltimore after all… lots and lots of crabs!

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Stenciled Storm Drain – from BWB’s website

It’s a clever idea and BWB could use your support to make these things happen — so check out their video below and click here if you’d like to support the Storm Drain Stencil Share.

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