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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Posted in Landscape Architecture, Stormwater Management | 3 Comments

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.

Posted in Stormwater Management | 4 Comments

VWEA 2013 Spring Seminar

The Virginia Water Environment Association (VWEA) will be hosting a one day seminar in Richmond, VA on March 19, 2013 called:

The Cost of Compliance: BMP Planning, Cost, and Maintenance.

Stormwater Maintenance & Consulting‘s own Ted Scott will be there to speak from experience about issues in the operation and maintenance of green stormwater infrastructure.

The seminar also includes many other speakers who will talk about how municipalities can plan, fund and maintain green infrastructure to meet their MS4 requirements.  There will also be a round-table discussion with questions and suggestions by experts from around the state.  More than 20 exhibitors will be there as well.

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Click Here for Details and Full Schedule

Click Here to Register

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Chesapeake Stormwater Network Training Video #3

This is the final video in the Chesapeake Stormwater Network series about Low Impact Development BMPs.

In it, experts (including SWM‘s Ted Scott and Bob Ferstler) talk about how to properly maintain bioretention facilities and what common problems to look for.  There are also some warnings about what can go wrong when maintenance is not done properly.

Be sure to check out the other training materials available on CSN‘s website.

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Trees for Hydraulic Engineers

As engineers, we found this video to be quite fascinating. It dissects and answers an interesting question: How do trees transfer straight up – sometimes as much as 300 vertical feet?

Found on the Blue Water Baltimore Facebook page.  While you are clicking become a member and support clean water in Baltimore.  It doesn’t take much – twenty-five bucks gets you in.

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Chesapeake Stormwater Network Training Video #2

The next installment of Chesapeake Stormwater Network‘s video series has been released! This video is about inspecting LID stormwater practices.

Viewers will learn about the common problems inspectors find in bioretention facilities, bioswales and permeable pavement. Inspections can be done by contractors hired by a facility owner who would like to keep their facility in good working order, or by a municipality checking for functionality and compliance.

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Chesapeake Stormwater Network Releases Training Videos

Stormwater Maintenance, LLC is excited to see the release of this three-video series on Stormwater BMP Maintenance.

Why?? Because we’re in them! But also because they help the public learn more about Low Impact Development methods of stormwater management.

This first video is about proper construction techniques. In it, SWM, LLC’s Ted Scott talks about how a bioretention facility is supposed to work and about diagnosing what went wrong after a facility fails. Ted and others from SWM, LLC will be featured in the next two videos as well.

The Chesapeake Stormwater Network works to train anyone who needs to know about stormwater including members of local governments, construction contractors, or homeowners.

CSN worked with the Center for Watershed Protection to produce these videos with funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Walmart, and the Keith Campbell Foundation.

Be sure to share this wealth of knowledge with others through Twitter, Facebook, or any other social media.

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Late Summer Magic on the Upper Gunpowder River

Late Summer on the Gunpowder Falls

Posted in Landscape Architecture, Other Interesting Stuff, Stormwater Management, Streams | Leave a comment