Blog

Insights into projects and findings and also some general musings.
  • On Plants, Prisons, Workforce Development and Sustainability in Howard County, MD Sustainable community development generally focuses on the intersection of environmental, social and economic aspects of development.  While I have dedicated my education and career to the protection and conservation of ...
    Posted Jan 26, 2017, 5:32 AM by Lori Lilly
  • Beavers Beavers are true ecological engineers – shaping stream and wetland systems, reducing erosion, and creating complex habitats that benefit multitudes of species. Beaver are a keystone species throughout North America, meaning ...
    Posted Jan 26, 2017, 5:15 AM by Lori Lilly
  • 2015 National IDDE Program Assessment Summary Illicit discharge elimination is an under-utilized yet effective tool for water quality improvement efforts. Finding and fixing these ubiquitous and oftentimes egregious point sources of pollution is, to me ...
    Posted Dec 28, 2016, 4:05 PM by Eric Eckl
  • The Ellicott City Watershed In Howard County, MD, we have all been hyper-focused on Ellicott City since the 7/30/16 flood that devastated the town, community, residents and businesses. Amazing destruction, terrible ...
    Posted Dec 28, 2016, 3:59 PM by Eric Eckl
  • …On Watershed Management and Restoration Yeah, I pretty much love this. For a lot of reasons. It is complicated, no easy answers, many ways to get to an end goal, and the end goal is ...
    Posted Dec 28, 2016, 4:00 PM by Eric Eckl
  • Howard County Needs the Rain Tax I wrote this blog primarily because I would not be able to communicate all of this need justifying the Rain Tax, aka the stormwater utility fee, aka the Watershed Protection ...
    Posted Dec 28, 2016, 4:01 PM by Eric Eckl
  • Identification of Sanitary Sewer Overflow Hotspots in Maryland Lori A. Lilly, Environmental Restoration Specialist; Nick Chamberlain, Freelance Software Developer; and Benjamin Sigrist, GIS ConsultantFrom January 1, 2005 – April 17, 2015, 9,579 sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs) discharged ...
    Posted Dec 28, 2016, 4:02 PM by Eric Eckl
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On Plants, Prisons, Workforce Development and Sustainability in Howard County, MD

posted Jan 26, 2017, 5:32 AM by Lori Lilly

Sustainable community development generally focuses on the intersection of environmental, social and economic aspects of development.  While I have dedicated my education and career to the protection and conservation of natural resources or, more broadly (and simplistically), “the environment,” I am becoming more interested and passionate about the integration of environmental platforms to help meet other societal needs.  In fact, I think it is becoming more and more necessary to explicitly link environmental, social and economic objectives as our world, despite (or because of) an ever increasing population, is becoming more and more limited in terms of funding, time and resources to devote to these issues individually.  Recently, I’ve been working on a project in Howard County, MD, that exemplifies a process for working towards achievement of multiple environmental, social and economic objectives.

In Howard County, we have been fortunate to have progressive thinkers in elected, appointed and staff positions.  Through local advocacy  efforts, a program was created, Restoring the Environment and Developing Youth (READY), three years ago with the dual goals of providing employment to the County’s young adult population and meeting requirements of environmental regulation that require improving the quality and health of local streams as well as the Chesapeake Bay.  Young adults, age 16-26, proceeded to build, maintain and are now even designing rain gardens and conservation landscapes, fulfilling not only permit requirements but also community needs for beautification, education, outreach and engagement and the development of a stewardship ethic on behalf of our County’s young people, something that they will continue to carry with them (hopefully) for the rest of their lives.

The READY program has been evolving with each successive year.  I learned a lot about the program in the summer, 2014, when I joined the crews as Operations Manager.  Coordinating the work of six crews (often working in different parts of the 254 square mile County), two trucks and two designers with a de-centralized base of operations was a challenge.  Although READY (thankfully) receives a great deal of support from Howard Community College for training space as well as space for storage of materials, it is not a permanent home and any given task that seems like it would be a simple operational maneuver, would more likely be nested within a logistical puzzle/occasional nightmare.  A quick example of a typical situation on any given morning:  Crew A is ready to plant their rain garden at Site E.  Plants for the garden are located at each of our two storage locations (12 miles from each other, 15 miles from Site E).  Driver B takes his truck (a rented Penske truck, which is already packed with rain barrels and rolls of corrugated black plastic pipe because we have nowhere to store supplies) to pick up the plants.  The driver does not know all of the plants so someone familiar with plants (a designer or me) meets the driver at both plant storage locations to load them up and the end destination to lay them out.  While plants are being loaded, Crew C runs out of landscape cloth at Site G.  Driver B runs by the hardware store to pick up the cloth en route to Site E, sending out a group text along the way to make sure no other supplies are needed from the store.  As plants are being unloaded at Site E, Crew D calls to report that they will be finishing up Site H and will be ready to start a new site that afternoon.  It wasn’t anticipated that they would be finishing up so early, so we must quickly make sure it is okay to begin work at Site X by contacting the landowner.  Turns out to be okay, so we call to reserve a sod cutter for the afternoon, making arrangements for Driver A to pick it up after he is finished dropping off a yard of river rock at Site M.  Driver B is tasked with moving Crew D’s tools from Site H to Site X.  Whew – all that in a couple hours and still the afternoon (and rest of the week!) to go…

Being a “plant person,” I’ve been particularly interested in the Plant Operations aspect of READY.  Throughout my life, I’ve spent a good deal of time tending a home garden, working in a greenhouse and on an organic farm, studying plants, drawing wildflowers, incorporating them into my Master’s thesis work and, one of the last projects that I was initiating before leaving my job in Oregon, was working with the National Park Service to establish a native plant nursery for watershed restoration projects.  Circling back to READY, I found myself exploring this same latter project idea– why spend $10,000-$15,000 each year on plants when the gardens were producing tons of seed that we could harvest and grow ourselves?  It would add another wonderful learning and workforce development aspect to the program, as well as increase overall program sustainability.

Starting a native plant nursery is no easy endeavor and we don’t have a base of operations so how to get this going?  I sent out a survey through a national list-serve to gather information from those that have started or currently work in native plant nurseries.  I collected information such as start-up costs, operational costs, lessons learned, etc.  I also visited some local nurseries and got advice from staff at the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission, Chesapeake Natives and Fairfax County, VA.  One interesting lead that I got from the nation-wide survey was from someone in MN who informed me of a model that they employ with their County Correction facility – they started a horticultural program for in-mates and work with this population to grow native plants for restoration projects.  What a great idea!

I cold-called and e-mailed the Director of our Howard County Corrections Department and he was very interested in a collaboration.  We are still exploring and it is looking like we will have some grant funds to build a greenhouse at the facility that the in-mates can maintain.  This is particularly awesome because the maintenance aspects of the nursery are very time-consuming – we’ll get this labor for free and the in-mates will 1) have something to do on-site (particularly valuable as it costs more to engage in-mates in activities off-site) and 2) learn job-related skills that may assist them when they are released.  Our County Corrections facility also already has a vegetable garden space where they grow food for themselves and the food bank so this whole idea of growing was not a big stretch for them.  Since I had some native plant seed collected from the fall, I went ahead and worked with two in-mates in December to plant it in a portion of their vegetable garden space:

DSC08695

It was cool to work with the in-mates.  I was both nervous and curious as to how it would go – they asked a lot of questions about what we were doing, the READY program (they were 19 and 20 years old themselves), job opportunities and the seeds that we were planting.  One of the guys showed particular interest in the variety of seeds that we had (seeds are fascinatingly diverse in shape, color, size and texture) and I showed them pictures of what the plants would look like when they grew up.  They particularly liked the hibiscus, which has a very pretty, showy flower.

I’ve since been reading up on gardens and growing in prisons and, not surprisingly, gardens in prisons have therapeutic properties for both the prisoners and staff.  Prisons are harsh, institutional settings and gardens can help inmates manage behavioral symptoms exacerbated by the sterility, tension, and alienation of the prison environment. For staff, gardens can provide relief from the harsh social environment of their work place and provide healthful benefits in terms of stress reduction.  Several long-running prison garden programs showed that inmates benefited from involvement in the program both during incarceration and post-release. Participants reduced negative or self-destructive behaviors in several ways, including a reduction in illegal activities (from 66.7% to 25%), fewer friendships with criminal associates, limited reliance on damaging familial relationships, less drug use, and an increased desire for help[1].

A prison in New York has a stellar model that they employ with their GreenHouse and GreenTeam programs: http://thehort.org/horttherapy_greenteam.html These programs work in tandem – in-mates learn horticultural skills through the GreenHouse program and transitional work, job search skills, and job placement, and aftercare services through the GreenTeam program.  We environmentalists need to look for more opportunities to marry our “environmental agendas” with other societal needs.  There are simply not enough resources to not do this.  It’s going to take a lot of creativity and initiative to develop new partnerships to facilitate this kind of work but, in the end, we will all benefit because our programs and efforts will be that much more resilient to changes in funding and political climates and that much more successful at achieving our collective goals for a better world.

Lori

Beavers

posted Jan 26, 2017, 5:14 AM by Lori Lilly

Beavers are true ecological engineers – shaping stream and wetland systems, reducing erosion, and creating complex habitats that benefit multitudes of species. Beaver are a keystone species throughout North America, meaning a species on which other species in an ecosystem largely depend and, if removed, the ecosystem would change drastically.  Their population has made a tremendous comeback since being nearly extirpated in the 1800s.

To many, beaver are a pest because they damage trees, cause flooding and block culverts.  Typical response to these “conflicts” is to trap and euthanize beaver.  Some entities do not resort immediately to killing.  Montgomery Parks educates the public about the benefits of beavers, recognizes their important ecological role, and promotes alternative methods of beaver management such as tree protection and trickle levelers in dams.  Reston, VA employs similar techniques of public education, prevention and harassment before killing.

In Howard County, MD, the Department of Recreation and Parks states that “it shall be a goal of the Department of Recreation & Parks to practice an attitude of acceptance of, and tolerance for, beaver activity as part of the county’s natural environment and it will foster this attitude among the public through education.”  I would like to see this philosophy emphasized through policy and procedure in the County’s 2017 Land Preservation, Parks and Recreation Plan.  The current plan only provides one mention of beaver and that is within the context of “population control” – see page 102.  The County is currently accepting public input on the 2017 Land Preservation, Parks and Recreation Plan here.  Please join me in letting the County know that we value this incredible species and are in support of alternatives to killing, such those employed by the communities above, as a means for managing beaver conflict.

2015 National IDDE Program Assessment Summary

posted Dec 28, 2016, 4:05 PM by Lori Lilly

Illicit discharge elimination is an under-utilized yet effective tool for water quality improvement efforts. Finding and fixing these ubiquitous and oftentimes egregious point sources of pollution is, to me, a relatively easy win for our environment. I say “relatively” because illicit discharge elimination can be as easy as turning off a faucet, sometime requires significantly more detective work and occasionally seems impossible… However, the benefits are generally quite obvious, particularly compared to other restoration activities such as stormwater management where effectiveness is more difficult to determine, based on assumptions from scientific literature and studies, assumes proper installation and maintenance over time and the specifications of which seem to be continuously changing. Finding a sewer pipe that has been illicitly connected to a storm drain and properly re-connecting it is pretty straightforward, is 100% efficient and does not require the same level of follow-up monitoring, maintenance and performance verification as, for example, a bioretention facility.

In 2004, the Center for Watershed Protection (the Center) published the primary guidance manual for Illicit Discharge Detection and Elimination (IDDE) program development and implementation with support from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Development of the Brown et al (2004) guidance manual consisted of a national survey of Phase I Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) permittees. Given that this guidance is over 10 years old now, I was curious what folks were doing currently in the IDDE world. I conducted an informal survey of MS4 IDDE program managers and present some of these results below.

Data from this survey was collected through voluntary contributions from primarily local governments (80% of respondents). Solicitation to complete the survey was conducted via two listserves in late April, 2015 – the national NPSInfo listserve and the Chesapeake Network listserve. Of the 29 respondents, 69% were Phase I representatives and 31% were Phase II representatives. 35% of the respondents were from EPA Region 3, 10% from Regions 4, 5, 9 & 10 and the remaining were from the other regions or did not know which Region they were in (uh oh!). I was happy to see that roughly 60% of respondents conducted water quality monitoring with their IDDE programs – although many illicit discharges are visually obvious, many are not quite so due to dilution and can only be detected with actual water quality monitoring. Respondents measured a wide variety of parameters with their programs as shown below.

WQ_Parameters

Most respondents report including temperature as one of their IDDE parameters of choice. Although temperature may be an important parameter for assessing biological conditions, it is not an ideal illicit discharge source indicator. I was pleased to see that 44% of respondents were using ammonia and 41% were using detergents as an indicator – these two indicators were determined in Brown et al (2004) to be excellent illicit discharge indicators. A few communities are still using phenols and copper in their IDDE programs – these parameters are likely relics of the industrial permitting program and are not very good indicators of MS4 illicit discharges (again, see Brown et al).

In the survey conducted for development of the Brown et al IDDE manual, communities reported that outfall screening was not always the most effective means of finding illicit discharges. The original survey suggested that communities felt the use of discharge tracers as “challenging and sometimes fruitless, because of false or ambiguous results and complex or hazardous analytical methods.” Communities wanted accurate, cost-effective, and safe monitoring. In the survey that I conducted, 56% of respondents found outfall screening to be one of the most helpful means for finding illicit discharges – perhaps this is a result of the Brown et al guidance being put to good use? The majority also (74%) stated that staff reporting from other department was the most effective means of finding illicit discharges, pointing to the value of cross-departmental training for illicit discharge detection program efforts.

At the Center, we thought that communities were largely sampling only outfalls >36” in diameter. My colleague Paul Sturm and I led a study in Baltimore in 2010 that pointed to the value of sampling all outfalls, regardless of size (http://www.lorialilly.com/files/CWP_2010_IDDE_MonitoringBmore.pdf). I was pleased to see in this recent survey that almost half of all respondents do sample all outfalls and not just the large ones. Although communities seem to be having more success at implementing effective outfall screening programs, 66% still report of having complaint-driven programs. However, a healthy 41% are using GIS-based desktop assessments and 28% use water quality monitoring to target their programs.

Another happy surprise that I found was that 31% of communities partner with non-profit, watershed group or citizen monitoring programs to supplement their IDDE efforts. Citizen monitoring groups and watershed associations can be very valuable partners in such efforts. These entities can serve as excellent eyes, ears and advocates and, when properly trained, can also supplement actual local government monitoring efforts. Some of these citizen-based programs are listed on my IDDE Knowledge Bank web-page (more will be added): http://www.lorialilly.com/bank.html

With the ever-increasing regulation of nutrients in the Bay watershed, governments are seeking out every tool possible in order to obtain nutrient reduction credits. An important game-changer as related to this has come into play in the Chesapeake Bay region recently. Since the end of 2014, illicit discharge elimination is now creditable for nutrient reduction through the mechanism of Discovered Nutrient Discharges from Grey Infrastructure (DNDGI; http://chesapeakestormwater.net/bay-stormwater/baywide-stormwater-policy/urban-stormwater-workgroup/illicit-discharge-detection/). When I first started working at the Center in 2003, we began to employ nutrient screening during regular outfall screening and found the nutrient load from illicit discharges to be quite significant. With this current survey that I conducted, I was also curious whether Bay MS4s were aware of DNDGI credit and, if so, whether they were planning to utilize it.

40% of respondents were located in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. 58% of those in the Bay watershed were aware of the new DNDGI credit but 67% did not know whether they yet planned to use the credit for meeting their Chesapeake Bay Watershed Implementation Plan requirements. This is understandable – I think it’s going to take a few brave communities to pave the way in this endeavor with their States. In addition, the Option 1 credit for implementing an Advanced Nutrient Discovery program is likely not going to be worth the program modification efforts for most communities. In a recent IDDE program audit that I recently conducted, this was the case; simply gearing up for the Option 2 credit will potentially have much more benefit.

If your community is interested in an IDDE program audit, assistance with IDDE program development, or IDDE training, please feel free to drop me a line!

Cheers!

Lori

The Ellicott City Watershed

posted Dec 28, 2016, 3:58 PM by Lori Lilly

In Howard County, MD, we have all been hyper-focused on Ellicott City since the 7/30/16 flood that devastated the town, community, residents and businesses. Amazing destruction, terrible and scary videos, businesses destroyed and residents evicted. The town is left on crumbling infrastructure, recovery is under-way, but it will take a long, long time. People are sad and angry and rightly asking why and how this happened. I don’t have any secret answers, but I can offer my own perspective as someone that has been working on this issue from both a professional and volunteer capacity since the 2011 flood. In 2011, I led the development of the Tiber Hudson Subwatershed Action Plan. We looked for both water quality and water storage projects in the watershed with the goal of mitigating for polluted stormwater runoff as well as providing more flood storage capacity. During that same timeframe, I became the first volunteer chair of the Ellicott City Partnership’s Clean, Green and Safe Committee. In fall, 2015, I was asked to join the Ellicott City Flood Workgroup. Out of my own growing personal interest in the issue, I put together documents and led some initiatives over the past 5 years:

  • timeline of activities, as I knew them, from the 2011 flood – Fall 2014, during the time when I was then working at the Center for Watershed Protection, trying to get some projects going in the watershed and offering volunteer support to the now defunct Ellicott City Flood Solutions Group.
  • flood action plan, represents my own views only, and was shared with elected officials, Dept of Public Works, the Ellicott City Flood Workgroup, whoever would listen.
  • flood safety workshop for the public.
  • flood preparedness video, proudly aired at one of the Wine Bin movie nights summer, 2016. It will air there again!
  • Advocated to the County Council and County Executive and then implemented a regular debris maintenance program in the Ellicott City channels with the READY program.  (I can’t prove that the debris maintenance helped in this last flood without doing some Star Trek alternate reality type stuff, but the channels were clear a month before the 7/30 event by my own survey, so I can only hope that it helped things from being worse than they could’ve been.)

Important documentation from the County to note includes:

  • Case Study put together after the 2011 flood.
  • Tiber Hudson and Plumtree Stream Corridor Assessment completed after the 2011 flood that documents wall failures, debris blockages, erosion and constriction points.
  • Hydrologic and Hydraulic Study completed after the 2011 flood that documented conditions during the 2011 flood and assessed whether adding upstream retention and/or increased conveyance would help with the flooding problem – the study determined that those measures would not have appreciably decreased the damage caused by the 2011 flood.

Unfortunately, Historic Ellicott City was founded and built in a floodplain – the floodplain of the large Patapsco River and the floodplain of the Tiber Hudson subwatershed to the Patapsco. Also unfortunately, this watershed, like pretty much all of the watersheds in the region, is broken. Old development, that development built prior to when our current stormwater management standards were put into place, is a large culprit for eroded streambanks, in-stream sedimentation and poor water quality. Most of the development in the watershed occurred prior to 2003 and this can be seen by looking at historic aerial photographs available from Howard County’s Interactive GIS map. Without having these layers available to me in a GIS format, I used some rudimentary drawing to replicate the watershed boundary on historic aerial photography. You can see here that a large portion of the watershed was already developed prior to 1980 and that we then saw more development occur prior to 2002, which still would have been prior to when current stormwater management regulations were put into place. In terms of watershed management, we need to focus on stormwater retrofits of existing large impervious surfaces and stormwater pond retrofits of the older ponds built in the ’90s. We also need to determine if there is a storm that we can actually feasibly manage with those (retrofitted) practices, because managing 1″ won’t help us and managing 100 yr will not help much either, so will something in the middle work, at least partially?  What does it mean for the stormwater management to work, for us, in our situation? Let’s talk about this, community.

I’m also pretty curious about what the current and former big thinkers at the Center for Watershed Protection think about this.  After all, the organization is a leader in watershed management, had some early fundamental years in the historic district, shared many a good idea and bonded friendships at the Judges Bench, and received the “upstairs discount” from Dave at the Wine Bin…the same Dave stranded in a cherry tree in Lot F during the 7/30 flood(!)…Let’s utilize this opportunity to put theory into application!

The Tiber Hudson watershed is also largely built out – the remaining land available for development would be on steep slopes and headwater areas. Nevertheless, new development is planned in the watershed. My personal opinion is that even if this new development goes in with updated stormwater management, that stormwater management will never be able to do as good of a job as the existing forest cover. Engineers may argue otherwise but I’m pretty sure that at the very least, we won’t see a forested system fail the way the Burgess Mill redevelopment stormwater management systems failed during the 7/30/16 flood.

In Howard County, MD, we have all been hyper-focused on Ellicott City since the 7/30/16 flood that devastated the town, community, residents and businesses. Amazing destruction, terrible and scary videos, businesses destroyed and residents evicted. The town is left on crumbling infrastructure, recovery is under-way, but it will take a long, long time. People are sad and angry and rightly asking why and how this happened. I don’t have any secret answers, but I can offer my own perspective as someone that has been working on this issue from both a professional and volunteer capacity since the 2011 flood. In 2011, I led the development of the Tiber Hudson Subwatershed Action Plan. We looked for both water quality and water storage projects in the watershed with the goal of mitigating for polluted stormwater runoff as well as providing more flood storage capacity. During that same timeframe, I became the first volunteer chair of the Ellicott City Partnership’s Clean, Green and Safe Committee. In fall, 2015, I was asked to join the Ellicott City Flood Workgroup. Out of my own growing personal interest in the issue, I put together documents and led some initiatives over the past 5 years:

  • timeline of activities, as I knew them, from the 2011 flood – Fall 2014, during the time when I was then working at the Center for Watershed Protection, trying to get some projects going in the watershed and offering volunteer support to the now defunct Ellicott City Flood Solutions Group.
  • flood action plan, represents my own views only, and was shared with elected officials, Dept of Public Works, the Ellicott City Flood Workgroup, whoever would listen.
  • flood safety workshop for the public.
  • flood preparedness video, proudly aired at one of the Wine Bin movie nights summer, 2016. It will air there again!
  • Advocated to the County Council and County Executive and then implemented a regular debris maintenance program in the Ellicott City channels with the READY program.  (I can’t prove that the debris maintenance helped in this last flood without doing some Star Trek alternate reality type stuff, but the channels were clear a month before the 7/30 event by my own survey, so I can only hope that it helped things from being worse than they could’ve been.)

Important documentation from the County to note includes:

  • Case Study put together after the 2011 flood.
  • Tiber Hudson and Plumtree Stream Corridor Assessment completed after the 2011 flood that documents wall failures, debris blockages, erosion and constriction points.
  • Hydrologic and Hydraulic Study completed after the 2011 flood that documented conditions during the 2011 flood and assessed whether adding upstream retention and/or increased conveyance would help with the flooding problem – the study determined that those measures would not have appreciably decreased the damage caused by the 2011 flood.

Unfortunately, Historic Ellicott City was founded and built in a floodplain – the floodplain of the large Patapsco River and the floodplain of the Tiber Hudson subwatershed to the Patapsco. Also unfortunately, this watershed, like pretty much all of the watersheds in the region, is broken. Old development, that development built prior to when our current stormwater management standards were put into place, is a large culprit for eroded streambanks, in-stream sedimentation and poor water quality. Most of the development in the watershed occurred prior to 2003 and this can be seen by looking at historic aerial photographs available from Howard County’s Interactive GIS map. Without having these layers available to me in a GIS format, I used some rudimentary drawing to replicate the watershed boundary on historic aerial photography. You can see here that a large portion of the watershed was already developed prior to 1980 and that we then saw more development occur prior to 2002, which still would have been prior to when current stormwater management regulations were put into place. In terms of watershed management, we need to focus on stormwater retrofits of existing large impervious surfaces and stormwater pond retrofits of the older ponds built in the ’90s. We also need to determine if there is a storm that we can actually feasibly manage with those (retrofitted) practices, because managing 1″ won’t help us and managing 100 yr will not help much either, so will something in the middle work, at least partially?  What does it mean for the stormwater management to work, for us, in our situation? Let’s talk about this, community.

I’m also pretty curious about what the current and former big thinkers at the Center for Watershed Protection think about this.  After all, the organization is a leader in watershed management, had some early fundamental years in the historic district, shared many a good idea and bonded friendships at the Judges Bench, and received the “upstairs discount” from Dave at the Wine Bin…the same Dave stranded in a cherry tree in Lot F during the 7/30 flood(!)…Let’s utilize this opportunity to put theory into application!

The Tiber Hudson watershed is also largely built out – the remaining land available for development would be on steep slopes and headwater areas. Nevertheless, new development is planned in the watershed. My personal opinion is that even if this new development goes in with updated stormwater management, that stormwater management will never be able to do as good of a job as the existing forest cover. Engineers may argue otherwise but I’m pretty sure that at the very least, we won’t see a forested system fail the way the Burgess Mill redevelopment stormwater management systems failed during the 7/30/16 flood.

The remaining green spaces should be conserved and protected. No, we can’t take away the right of a private property owner to develop his/her property if they are planning to follow all the rules. But we’re talking about a relatively small area of the county – 3 square miles of the County’s total 253 sq miles, and even less if we were just talking about the Hudson Branch subwatershed that includes residential homes in the floodplain. How can we incentivize protection of the remaining green areas? Can the County buy the land? How about an impervious cover ordinance? Howard County’s 2013 Flood Mitigation Plan talks about some of these exact measures – Goal 5, “The intensity of development in the County and the fact that it is landlocked makes it more prone to flashfloods since water does not have a place to flow to;” Action 5, “Consider developing an Impervious Surface Ordinance for the County that encourages the reduction of newly installed impervious surfaces or offsets the impacts of these surfaces in the County.” Something for our elected officials to consider. They might also consider following a model similar to Montgomery County’s Special Protected Areas, whereby “the developer must follow strict requirements throughout the project in order to reduce the threat to these resources and features.”

But much needs to be done in the historic district. The stream channel walls, many partially or fully supporting actual structures, are failing at a rapid pace. I conducted a stream survey on 8/4/16 after the 7/30/16 flood and documented eight new failing or failed walls from what I could safely access – this is in addition to the many walls that had already failed. The County has been working on addressing the walls, most recently though an inventory of their current status (i.e., extent of degradation), and found many in poor condition. Of course that inventory was before the flood and much has since changed… Repairing, restoring and re-building the channel walls is of utmost importance, and will be extremely difficult esp. in the business part of town due to very challenging access for heavy machinery.

One thing on our side with this whole problem is the relatively small size of the Tiber Hudson watershed. This really limits and focuses our actionable footprint. That being said, our work and rebuilding efforts are made that much more difficult due to something more out of our hands – climate change, and predictions of increased flooding and storm intensities. We simply need to be prepared for flood events – as individuals and as a community. This might mean that when re-building downtown, we think about ways that we can safely overflow floodwaters. Perhaps some businesses only operate from the second floor to allow for conveyance on the first floor. Bentztown Spring Park in Frederick is an example, though on a larger scale, of how the City reclaimed the floodplain.

Frederick
The park serves as a recreation area for the majority of the time but, during storms, it is able to serve as a floodway to carry floodwaters. Can Ellicott City do something like that? We are constricted in a granite ravine so that makes the job pretty hard, but let’s get some creative firms thinking on it, yeah?  We have an additional challenge of getting the Tiber Hudson floodwater out of town while the Patapsco is coming in – it doesn’t seem like underground conveyance will work.  See this article from the National Weather Service that says water from Ellicott City’s watershed met the Patapsco at the 8100 block of Main St.  What turbulent meeting that must’ve been…

We need a lot of things to fix this problem. We need to be honest with ourselves about storms we can feasibly manage in the watershed. We need to repair and re-build the failing channel walls. We need to address the eroding streambanks – stabilize them and manage invasive plants like Japanese knotweed that is rapidly spreading. We need dedicated staff that will lead the charge in writing grants and facilitating conversation.  We need to be prepared for the inevitable, and educate those that come to town about what to do if there is a flood while they are dining and shopping. We need to figure out how to convey floodwaters through town in a way that minimizes damage to property and of course loss of life. We will certainly need to look into the existing warning system and see how that can be improved. And more, lots and lots to do.

Finishing up this past week with the READY crews cleaning debris and trash out the channels, we came out of the stream after working all day in the 100+ degree heat, wallowing in our sweaty waders, dirty, smelly, thirsty and having touched all manner of nasty things, only to be greeted by two little kids and their Free Lemonade stand.  We could not have been more heartened and uplifted by so small a thing.  I love this little town with all the rest and believe we can re-build in a way to make it that much stronger.

DSCN2631

#ECSTRONG

…On Watershed Management and Restoration

posted Oct 27, 2015, 11:45 AM by Erika Howder

Yeah, I pretty much love this. For a lot of reasons. It is complicated, no easy answers, many ways to get to an end goal, and the end goal is determined by…what? Good question. There is some science, we know what a lot of the problems are, we know how to address some of the problems, in part, not as whole. Not a lot of success stories, but a few. Restoring a watershed might be a pretty straightforward thing, in a watershed with no people in it. Then tons of science could be applied and we could see how this and that application actually resulted in this and that outcome. But that’s the thing, because the watersheds that need restoring, have that one thing about them, called people. And communities. Social fabric. Needs. Wants. So we can’t have watershed restoration without considering the people. And of course the people are incredibly complicated too. So we have these complicated ecological interactions disturbed by complicated problems caused by people that are complicated in social, emotional, psychological and physical ways.…So how is one, who has SO MUCH desire to make her community a better place, to not only make sense of it all, but to actually make some in-roads on that same desire. It ain’t easy, that’s for sure.

My first real introduction to the complicated nature of this beast was in northwest Oregon. In that neck of the woods, the common practice is “community-based watershed restoration.” This means enabling all the various stakeholders to participate in identifying and addressing watershed protection and restoration activities. These may be large land holders, industry, local government and tribes, with environmental, recreational and education-oriented folks thrown into the mix. Together, decisions, strategies, projects and programs are vetted and implemented. This type of process proposes more locally relevant solutions that take into account a community’s unique social, economic, and environmental conditions and values. And, best of it all, it works – Oregon has restored more stream miles than CA, WA, ID and AK COMBINED. Amazing.

I’ve been using similar approaches in my work here on the East Coast….Between my job in OR and what I’m doing now, I got a bunch of technical knowledge under my belt from working at the Center for Watershed Protection for 5+ years. What I’ve been doing since my tail end career at the Center and now, is working on the best approaches for applying my technical knowledge to community-centric approaches to watershed restoration. My primary study area (informally – this has all been through various unpaid and paid work), has been in Ellicott City, MD. Yeah. Should’ve started with an easier watershed to test out my skilz, yo. Hundreds of years of flooding, historic community built on the floodplain, lots of unique personalities, a government that has hard time getting actual things done, businesses and houses built on old, old walls ready to fail and create a disaster…Complicated. Yet fascinating…She fears to look yet she cannot turn away…It is a small watershed – the science would rule in favor of being able to make a difference as far as that goes (big watersheds – hard to restore, i.e. Chesapeake Bay). But it has a lot of development – lose points on the difference-making scale there. The community is vocal and interested in solutions. Some of them. The ones that are interested, live downstream from the ones that aren’t, so there’s that. More science says that there’s not much that can be done about the flooding. But maybe something can be done about some of the issues – some properties may flood less if we do that, these old walls will last longer if we do this, maybe if we were to just do this thing, we wouldn’t have such a stinkin’ mess if it did flood. Wow. Lots to think about – an endless array of approaches could be taken, and would they work?

I will keep trying…in Ellicott City, in Howard County, in the small watershed where I live. I love to do this work. There are so many problems to fix, so many ways to fix them, so many ways to not just make a difference for the ecology, but to make a difference in the community. With the people. For the people. We can be so narrow minded in our approaches, so afraid to try something new, to even think of an alternative way of doing something. We are limited only by ourselves as far as figuring out solutions to these things. Let’s get together – you and I – think about it, for just a little bit, and then DO something. Who’s with me??

Howard County Needs the Rain Tax

posted Oct 27, 2015, 11:44 AM by Erika Howder

I wrote this blog primarily because I would not be able to communicate all of this need justifying the Rain Tax, aka the stormwater utility fee, aka the Watershed Protection and Restoration Fee, in a 3-minute public testimony to the County Council. I have sent a link to this blog to all of Howard County’s Council Members, the County Executive and members of the public that are welcome to use any of this same information as they see fit. Much of the factual information in this blog comes from the Center for Watershed’s Protection 2014 Fact Sheet called The Value of Stormwater Utility Fees in MD . The Fact Sheet presents a cogent argument for stormwater utility fees generally as well as history and case studies.

Communities across the nation with National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits to manage their municipal separate storm sewer systems (MS4s) realized pretty quickly that there is too much work to be done to meet the requirements from the general budget (without even getting into Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) and impervious cover retrofit requirements). From 1974 to 1996, there were an estimated 300 stormwater utilities nationwide and 600 by 2007 . Takoma Park was the first Maryland municipality to establish a stormwater utility fee in 1996 with others like Montgomery County and Annapolis quickly following. It is estimated that between 1,800-2,000 stormwater utilities exist nationwide today . These communities recognize that the need to manage these public services, this incredible network of pipes, inlets, ponds and other infrastructure, as well as the needs to meet stormwater regulatory requirements requires a sustainable and adequate funding mechanism. Funding stormwater management programs through the general fund may create a system where some property owners overpay for stormwater services, while others become subsidized because the fee is based on property taxes as opposed to the actual stormwater runoff from a property (Figure 1).

RainTaxFig1

Figure 1. Distribution of stormwater management costs in Baltimore City on property taxes (left) versus an impervious-area based stormwater fee (right) Source: CWP 2014 Fact Sheet The Value of Stormwater Utility Fees in MD.

Many of the benefits of stormwater fees are relevant right here in Howard County:

  • Stormwater management practices have multiple economic and social benefits, for example, reduced noise pollution, reduced energy usage, increased recreational opportunity, and reduced flooding to name just a few. A good example of aesthetic and functional stormwater management is “The Staircase” in downtown Ellicott City. The Staircase was installed to stabilize a hillslope that had failed in one of the parking lots and features a series of step pools and waterfalls that filter polluted stormwater runoff from the upland courthouse area. It is an impressive feature that provides connection from under-utilized parking in the upper elevations of Ellicott City to the downtown itself. People proudly post selfies of themselves on the Ellicott City facebook page as a badge of pride.

RainTaxStaircase2

  • Adequately funded stormwater management programs contribute significantly to local economies and their associated businesses and industries. As stated in the CWP Fact Sheet, “Every dollar invested in stormwater management and restoration activities will directly support jobs in a variety of industries such as engineering, landscaping and construction.” Spending from households is stimulated by resulting income and employment changes due to stormwater management projects. In Howard County, the READY program (Restoring the Environment and Developing Youth, a young adult environmental workforce program, a project that I currently manage) spent $50,000 of our program income on supplies and materials at local businesses such as MD Ground Covers, Kendall Hardware and Sun Nurseries between July and September of this year. We purchase many of our plants from a place called the Providence Center, which provides job skills development opportunities to those with disabilities. In addition, because all of our employees are Howard County residents, our own paychecks go back into the local economic engine. Our program, funded in part by the stormwater utility fee, is helping to spur the local economy.
  • Many municipalities with stormwater utility fees also have incentive programs to help alleviate the burden of the fee while also addressing the need for the fee to begin with. Municipalities may have credits and rebate programs to incentivize the installation of stormwater practices by property owners. Howard County has a credit and rebate program for residential homeowners as well as the commercial sector. In addition, Howard County has a Non-Profit Partnership Program that provides significant benefit to non-profits that agree to participate in the program, in fact, their fee goes to zero by signing on to the agreement. Watershed advocates in the public and non-profit sector further market these credit and incentive programs in order to facilitate more restoration and progress towards the watershed restoration goals.
  • The stormwater utility is paying for a requirement, a permit obligation and more than one regulation. These things will require a significant investment in resources to meet. In fact, many local governments, including Howard County, will not have enough revenue even with the fee to meet the new stormwater management requirements and Chesapeake Bay restoration goals. It could also be argued that if the remediation is funded out of the general fund, taxes would be increased across the board to cover the extra expense. Once those costs go up, they will never disappear. A dedicated fee may disappear one day if the job is accomplished that it is intended to accomplish.
  • And on that vein, a dedicated fund also equates to increased accountability for the expenditure of the funds. The money can only be spent one way. We are required to meet this and that regulation, this fee helps us do that, and this is what we did with the money to help meet this and that regulation – come on, let’s go look at what we did.
  • Finally, having a dedicated source of funds with a name like “Watershed Protection & Restoration Fund” allows us the opportunity to educate the public about the very issues that created the need for the fee in the first place. If this cost is buried in bonds and property taxes, we will have a much harder time meeting the goals. Public education about the issue is a necessity for getting the job done.

County Executive Kittleman and County Councilmember Greg Fox announced on 11/24/2015 their plan to phase out the Watershed Protection and Restoration fee: http://www.howardcountymd.gov/News112415.htm. The reason stated in the press release for eliminating the fee was that it is an “unnecessary and excessive burden” to the resident and small business population. I did a small survey in Howard County to see if this was the case and the results that I obtained show that 77.1% of the sample (n=83) do not find the fee to be a burden, don’t know about the fee or haven’t noticed the fee (Figure 2). (If you would like to participate in the survey, you can do so here: http://goo.gl/forms/H1b4I4T6iy)  And for those that do find the fee to be burden, there is a hardship credit to provide assistance for those that qualify: http://www.howardcountymd.gov/departments.aspx?ID=1465

If the County Councilmembers that are reading this blog find dispute with this survey or feel that this survey is biased in some manner, I would encourage him/her to otherwise gather some factual information from his/her constituents to indicate otherwise and please share this information with the public as justification for phasing out the fee. That the fee is a burden seems like a pretty nebulous and non-factual statement to justify eliminating a source of revenue that has all of the benefits identified above.

After all, we are in a County with an AVERAGE income of $108,844 – the third-highest median household income of any U.S. county as reported by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2012. Many people report moving to Howard County “for the schools.” Clearly this is a population that cares about the future. My own kids started learning about the Chesapeake Bay in 6th grade in Howard County – this is embedded into the school curriculum. We care about our children in Howard County, we care about their futures, we care about the Bay, we care about our local natural resources. Let’s put our money where our mouths are.

Figure 2. Survey of Howard County residents regarding whether the stormwater utility is a financial “burden” for  them.


Identification of Sanitary Sewer Overflow Hotspots in Maryland

posted Oct 27, 2015, 11:43 AM by Erika Howder

Lori A. Lilly, Environmental Restoration Specialist; Nick Chamberlain, Freelance Software Developer; and Benjamin Sigrist, GIS Consultant

From January 1, 2005 – April 17, 2015, 9,579 sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs) discharged approximately 900 million gallons of raw, untreated sewage into Maryland streams (Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) Combined Sewer Overflow/Sanitary Sewer Overflow Master database) (Figure 1). Of these SSOs, 40% were caused by blockages related to grease, rags, trash and other inappropriate material placed into the sanitary sewer system, resulting in nearly 16 million gallons of untreated sewage discharges from 2005-20014 (Figure 2). Many large cities in the Chesapeake Bay watershed are working under Consent Decrees to eliminate sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs) associated with rainfall and inflow/infiltration. While this is an important effort that will require significant investment in sanitary sewer infrastructure improvements, dry weather SSOs are more damaging because, unlike those SSOs caused by precipitation events, the raw sewage is not diluted by billions of gallons of associated stormwater. These dry weather SSOs represent a completely preventable pollution source as they are based primarily on individual behavior and, theoretically, should be able to be rectified through an effective social marketing campaign to change behavior.

SSO_Photo

Figure 1. Sanitary sewer overflow caused by a blockage.

SSO_Graph

Figure 2.  Number of SSOs caused by blockages from 2005-2014.  Data from Maryland Department of the Environment.

The direct cost for clearing a clogged sewer is approximately $4,000, which does not include addressing any resulting property or structural damage. For the approximate 3,757 MDE reported SSOs caused by blockages, this suggests that a conservative cost estimate of $15,028,000 has been spent in MD since 2005 to address this correctable problem. The direct costs associated with this issue, and the indirect costs in terms of degraded water quality and risks to public health, could be significantly reduced if consumers would follow proper disposal procedures. A study from the University of North Carolina Charlotte indicates that the likelihood of changing behavior on this issue are high. This research revealed that: “key publics reflect a willingness, even an eagerness to comply with proper grease disposal procedures when they are made aware of the risks of improper disposal. As a result, the study’s plan calls for ongoing, targeted awareness efforts (based on traditional and emerging mass media channels) coupled with targeted interpersonal communication efforts to move the public from awareness to personal interest to positive behavior change.”

This project will develop a social marketing plan to eliminate SSOs caused by the improper disposal of materials into the sanitary system. In order to best identify the target audiences, the location of SSOs across the state needed to be located. “Hotspots” of SSO activity were mapped based on density and recurrence interval using the following process.

SSO data was downloaded from MDE’s Combined Sewer Overflow/Sanitary Sewer Overflow Master database . This data was accessed on April 17, 2015 for this analysis. Of the 9,579 records in the database, 3,757 records were extracted based on their relation to blockages from grease, rags or trash.
A command-line application was written to geocode each record’s address into a list of latitudes and longitudes that could be imported into ArcGIS. Since the locations were within the Maryland State boundary, a publicly available RESTful web service provided by MD Department of Information Technology’s MD iMap program (http://imap.maryland.gov/Pages/mdimap-2.0-data-services.aspx) was utilized. The application was written in Golang (https://golang.org/) due to its ease of use and portability, as well as the potential for it to be improved to use a concurrent programming model in the future. The command-line utility can also be used in both Windows and Mac OSX environments since Golang compiles to a binary executable for various environments.

The command-line application, called go_geocoder (https://github.com/heynickc/go_geocoder), allows the user to input a .csv file with a column representing the MD addresses to be geocoded. It will then parse these records and send each address to the geocoding service. For each record, the response from the geocoding service is a list of addresses ranked by similarity, just as ArcMap’s geocoding tools do natively. The utility will then choose the best address match from the responses and write the corresponding latitude and longitude coordinates back to the .csv file as new columns. The application is currently not production-ready, but does show the advantages of using ArcGIS Server’s RESTful web services in combination with a cross-platform programming language to create a portable client application that is decoupled from specific environments or vendors.

The application successfully geo-located the majority of records. It was necessary to evaluate a small portion of the records manually to either correct the address or discard if the record was unable to be located. Of the 3757 original records, 3167 were successfully geolocated. Kernel density was used to identify geographic hotspots of SSO. Since the goal of the project was to identify hotspots within one city block, a 250’ search area was utilized to best capture recurrences in the immediate area. The kernel density raster was further refined to only show the hotspots, which were then turned into vector polygons. The geolocated SSO points were spatially joined to the polygons and then exported into a separate dataset. Temporal recurrence was identified by summarizing the dataset by its geocoded address, sorting the attribute table from high to low, and assessing the number of times an address was reported to have a SSO. In this manner, SSO hotspots from blockages were identified across the State of Maryland (Figure 3).

SSO_BaseMap

Figure 3. SSO hotspot locations in Maryland.

In the Chesapeake Bay watershed, nutrients are heavily regulated as a water quality pollutant. In addition, many waterways are impaired for bacteria. Sanitary sewage overflows and leaks are big contributors to nutrient and bacteria pollution problems. This project aims to improve the quality of streams and rivers by changing behavior to prevent dry weather SSOs. The first step has been to identify the locations of SSO hotspot activity. Armed with this information, the next step of target audience identification and crafting appropriate messages to reach those audiences can be undertaken much more effectively.

This project was generously funded by the Chesapeake Bay Trust (http://www.cbtrust.org/site/c.miJPKXPCJnH/b.5368633/k.BDEA/Home.htm) and is being completed in partnership with Ridge to Reefs (http://www.ridgetoreefs.org/). For more information, please contact Lori Lilly at lorililly@gmail.com.


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