Environmental activist highlights storm runoff issues
Wednesday, 31 July 2013 11:40

Clean Bread and Cheese Creek leader Long offers plan

by John G. Bailey

    Clean Bread and Cheese Creek (CBCC) and other like-minded groups spend a lot of time, effort and manpower on stream and waterway cleanups, picking up the mess from a consumption oriented, throw-away society.
    But for John Long, president of CBCC, the problem is more immediate. The tons of trash, tires and bulk items his group pulls from streams and shorelines, he says, come from an inadequate stormwater management system.
    “Its got tons of problems,” Long said of the network of drains and pipes that funnels rainwater and snow melt into local waterways.
    In an inteview with The Eagle, he recited a litany of specific problems and outlined solutions.
    The absence of filtering for stormwater runoff in the current system is a primary concern for Long. All the accumulated contaminants that storm water picks up — from fertilizer, automobile fluids, bacteria from animal carcasses — goes directly into area waterways.

Impermeable surfaces, which prevent precipitation from soaking into the ground, increase both the amount of runoff and the contamination that enters the system.
    Community advocacy group NeighborSpace of Baltimore County has a color-coded map on its  website showing that Dundalk has more nonporous, impermeable surface area than any other community in the county. (To see the map, visit www.neighborspacebaltimorecounty.org and click on “Protecting Land.”)
    More runoff leads to erosion of stream banks. Long pointed out that the exceedingly steep banks of local streams are a result of the erosion. “The streams are not designed for all this water,” he said.
    Erosion removes vegetation that helps filter water before it enters the system, compounding the problem.
    In addition, erosion increases the risk of contamination from compromised sewage pipes, which Long notes, are often close to creeks.
    More water also means more flooding. “Even moderate rains leave many roads that cross streams impassable,” Long explained. “When EMT and police vehicles can’t get through, this directly impacts the community.”
    Flooding also clogs the stormwater system with debris that it isn’t capable of handling.
    Homeowners who live adjacent to streams add to the problem by dumping grass climpings and other yard materials directly into streams.
    A resident of Gray Manor, who wished to remain anonymous, reported the dumping issue to The Eagle by phone earlier this year.
    “Neighbors think its a personal waste dump,” he said of the concrete plume near his home, which feeds directly into Bear Creek.
    The caller was also concerned about drain pipes from homeowners’ yards that discharged waste directly into the flume.
    “They hide them pretty well,” he said. “It doesn’t seem right.”  
    To deal with these problems, Long detailed five solutions for creating a better stormwater system. 
    •Increase permeable surfaces. Parking lots can be resurfaced to be more porous. As an example, Long pointed to the Taco Bell on Wise Avenue, with a parking lot surfaced with cobblestones instead of asphalt.
    De-paving also reduces runoff surfaces. The underused parts of parking lots around malls or large stores can be removed and replaced with landscaping.
    •Increase the number of stormwater treatment ponds. These ponds are surrounded by vegetation which act as filters for runoff. Two existing storm water treatment ponds are located on Chesapeake Avenue across from Sparrows Point High School and along Lodge Forest Drive.
    •Encourage bay-friendly architecture and landscaping. Buildings can be designed with rain gardens that filter runoff from roofs. Homeowners and business owners can install rain barrels that prevent rainwater from collecting contaminants.
    Dundalk Renaissance Corp. representatives will  discuss the benefits of rain barrels on Saturday, Aug. 10, from 9 a.m. to noon at the Dundalk Farmers Market. Rain barrels will be available for purchase.
    •Create or increase the size of natural buffer zones which separate the built environment from waterways and reduce contamination.
    •Limit development by enforcing already-existing zoning restrictions. Planned unit development amendments that increase runoff should be discouraged.
    “Leaving ground fallow is much less expensive in the long run,” Long explained, compared to the long-term consequences of overdevelopment.
    Upgrading Dundalk’s stormwater system will take money and support from the Baltimore County government. While systems in Towson, Catonsville and other jurisdictions have been upgraded, plans for Dundalk are as of yet unfunded.
    “No money,” is what Long said he hears when he asks why.
    For Long, exposure to toxins and disease from an inadequate storm water system makes renovation of the system as much a health issue as an environmental concern.
    “Clean water is an essential part of every community,” he declared. “Every child deserves to play in a healthy and safe environmnent regardless of the socio-economic status of their community.”   
    There are efforts underway to remedy such problems.
    The Maryland Department of Environment is set to issue a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit to Baltimore County to control storm drain pollution discharges at the end of the summer, according to Natural Resource Specialist Erin Wisniewski of the Baltimore County Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability.
    A compilation of federal and state regulations, the NPDES permit is designed to reduce runoff pollution in designated jurisdictions across the country.
    The permit establishes  requirements that the county must adhere to regarding stormwater  management during the five-year duration of the permit.
    These requirements include:
    •The restoration of 20 percent of the county’s impermeable surface area; 
    •Achieving a net reduction of stormwater pollution outflows over a five-year period;        
    •Addressing the effects of new development on water quality through the use of natural features and slowing down runoff to promote absorption and evaporation at project sites;
    •Monitoring of storm drain outflows for illicit discharges;
    •Reducing trash and increasing recycling.
    For a more detailed list  of requirements, visit www.baltimorecountymd.gov and click on “Environmental Protection and Sustainability” under “Agencies.”