Stories from the NFCCA Newsletter, the “Northwood News”

Northwood News ♦ June 2006

‘Rainwater Harvesting’ Gets a Boost

MoCo’s Stormwater Coalition Pushes for Watershed Protection

By Diane Cameron

Montgomery County’s streams are in trouble.  Especially in the lower third of the County, but increasingly in fast-growth places such as Clarksburg, our streams are being heavily polluted and degraded by construction mud, lawn fertilizers, street dirt, and bacteria from pet waste.  Beyond these pollutants, the millions of gallons of gushing stormwater that course through our downcounty streams from paved-over lands during rainstorms blow away the life — the fish, insects, and amphibians — that need more gentle flows in order to survive.  For these creatures, it’s as though each rainstorm were a relentless hurricane, leaving them homeless, injured, or dead.

Our local Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the State of Maryland (MDE) have been tracking these biological stream losses and the figures are sobering.  According to DEP, 35 percent of our county’s streams declined in biological quality between 1994 and 2001.  According to our analysis of MDE’s data available online for 1996-2006, two-thirds of our county’s major streams are designated as “impaired” in whole or in part.  These are streams and local lakes that are not meeting criteria for aquatic life, or levels of bacteria, nutrients, and sediment.  Watts Branch in the Potomac area is so polluted by stormwater that WSSC is now spending $15 million to reach farther out into the Potomac for cleaner drinking water rather than continue to spend an extra $800,000 per year removing Watts Branch’s excess sediment and nutrients.  But we think that pollution prevention, not a longer intake pipe, is the best solution to our problem.

Montgomery County DEP and other agencies have stormwater pollution reduction and watershed restoration programs, but these programs aren’t fully in line with the federal Clean Water Act.  The Stormwater Partners Coalition, comprised of 20 organizations including ANS, is proposing to upgrade the county’s stormwater permit under the Clean Water Act’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES).  We want pollution “caps,” along with source controls with objective criteria, written into the County’s NPDES permit, which is up for renewal this summer of 2006.  And we want MDE to use this upgraded permit as a template for other municipalities statewide, including our upstream neighbor Frederick County, whose NPDES stormwater permit is up for renewal in 2007.

More funding for stormwater pollution prevention is starting to flow:  our County Council on May 18 passed a $1.3 million initiative, crafted by our Coalition and led by Councilmembers Silverman and Floreen, to spur the use of rain gardens and other on-site “rainwater harvesting” methods to be retrofitted into existing yards and parking lots in a downcounty watershed.  We are happy to see this money be devoted to “twenty-first century stormwater management,” which sees rainwater as a resource to be harvested and used, not as a nuisance to be shunted away and wasted.  Our thanks go to the Council and to civic leaders including Ginny Barnes, President of the West Montgomery County Citizens Association, whose diligent efforts on a task force a decade ago led to the Water Quality Protection Charge, the dedicated stormwater utility fee that is the funding source of this new initiative.

New developments can do even more, and the Council’s package also includes funding for green roofs on new schools.  Also, as part of our permit advocacy, the Stormwater Partners Coalition is proposing that county codes be changed to require new developments to use environmentally sound design and utilize vegetated areas as stormwater “sponges,” as is supposed to be required in the Upper Rock Creek Special Protection Area.  County Executive Doug Duncan has announced a new task force to look at such zoning code changes; we would support such a task force if it is written into the stormwater permit with measurable goals tied to water quality standards, and we’ve asked that the environmental community be represented on it.

We plan to meet with County Executive Duncan in June to present an opportunity to him to establish measurable goals for these actions through the renewed stormwater permit.  We remain hopeful that Montgomery County can take the lead in protecting and restoring watersheds with public accountability, and that our high-quality Potomac drinking water source will receive permanent, verifiable protections.

Your letters and emails to County Executive Duncan in support of a stronger NPDES permit are needed.  Send them to:  Douglas M. Duncan, 101 Monroe Street, Rockville, MD 20850; Phone: 240-777-2500; Fax: 240-777-2517; eMail: douglas.duncan@montgomerycounty

[Diane Cameron is Coordinator for the Stormwater Partners Coalition.  She can be reached at (contact details redacted).]   ■

   © 2006 NFCCA  [Source:]