Stormwater Spotlight: Baltimore Stormwater Management and the Chesapeake Bay Cleanup


It’s been decades since the Clean Water Act (CWA) was passed in 1972, and the varied cities and states of the Mid-Atlantic US have taken many green initiatives to keep their water and environment clean. The Chesapeake Bay, the body of water these states, including Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia, empty some or all of their rivers into, is one of the most closely watched bodies of water in the U.S. because of the high productivity value offered from the estuary. The ecosystem is extremely diverse and contains thousands of species of plants and aquatic wildlife, differentiating it from other large waterbodies up and down the eastern seaboard. Along with the extensive ecological value, these six states encompass the Bay, five major rivers run into the estuary, and over eighteen million people live within the Chesapeake Bay watershed. States surrounding the Bay have been pressured more than ever by the EPA and local municipalities to take responsibility for their impact on the watershed. With over 100,000 streams, creeks, and rivers running through, there is no wonder why it is so critical to develop a plan to mitigate some of the damage that has already taken place in the Chesapeake Bay [1].

Many projects and programs have been initiated by the states surrounding The Chesapeake Bay to lower their pollution footprint because of the Total Daily Maximum Load (TDML) standards set forth by the CWA. According to the TDML, any bodies of water that are defined as “dirty waters” must specify the maximum pollution levels allowable to still be within water quality standards [2]. The EPA has classified The Chesapeake Bay as “dirty waters” for years 1. The leading contribution to pollution and contamination in the Bay is stormwater runoff and pollution from non-point sources. Runoff that is not controlled and has not been filtered can carry harsh contaminants directly into the nearby streams and rivers that flow downstream and affect local fisheries and drinking water supplies. The conservation efforts in and around the Bay are predicated on controlling, filtering, and maintaining the runoff through executing the systems and plans in place, while integrating continuous innovations.

Three states make up 90% of the Bay’s pollution: Virginia, Pennsylvania and Maryland; these states have begun initiatives to address the issue and lower their impact on the environment. Virginia addressed the issue by investing one billion dollars on improving wastewater systems and has drafted a plan to improve pre- and post-construction runoff requirements[3], while Pennsylvania has drafted and approved part of a stormwater permit requiring 350 MS4’s to produce a Pollutant Reduction Plan to address local water quality issues in nearby streams[4].  For Maryland, one of the leading states in the Bay Cleanup program, the concern is in the amount of impervious pavement throughout the urban and suburban areas. For years, runoff has been unable to absorb into the pavement and has been picking up pollutants and debris and carrying it directly into the waterways. Unable to completely re-grade all the impervious pavements, updating and managing previous stormwater infrastructure will be the future of Maryland’s runoff control.

Chesapeake Bay Watershed

Stormwater control measures (SCM’s) are being upgraded and installed throughout the state to manage the excess stormwater runoff. The purpose is to install and manage stormwater systems that will help capture nutrients loads, sediment, and debris that get picked up by runoff in these impervious areas. In locations that are known to have larger amounts of impervious surface, such as urban cities, a stormwater fee is being implemented on residents [5]. The stormwater fee can vary depending on the local government or landowner, but it is used solely to upgrade and install stormwater assets throughout the state. The focus is on creating more green filters that naturally filter sediment and debris, and update ponds, pipes, and gutters that filter stormwater runoff [6]. The success of this approach hinges on properly managing and maintaining the SCMs that are put into place, tasks that warrant a deep understanding of the functionality of the respective systems.

Not only can runoff have a negative impact of the watershed and environment, but also on human health as the number of bacteria grows in the contaminated water. This makes the conservation of the Chesapeake Bay an important public issue. The city-wide implementation of stormwater plans that are maintained on a recurring basis is expected to curb the load of debris and sediment harming the Bay. With all of the positive updates to Maryland’s stormwater infrastructure, the state is one of the forerunners for pollution and nutrient reduction in the Bay. Maryland has been awarded money from the Bay Restoration Fund to manage stormwater assets and expects to see an improvement on pollution loads within the next two years if the systems stay maintained 4. The state is also currently within the goal of reducing nitrogen and phosphorus loads because of these applications 6.

For decades the Chesapeake Bay watershed has been receiving enormous amounts of pollutants from the surrounding states and unfortunately for Virginia, Pennsylvania and Maryland, the cleanup is going to be time consuming and costly. As the state begins to improve their stormwater assets, they will need to incorporate stormwater maintenance plans to ensure that these problems will not occur again, so they can avoid further costs of failing and mismanaged infrastructure.

As urban development continues to be on a rise, local cities and legislators are beginning to implement plans to control their environmental impact. If you are unsure of your impact on local watersheds, or have any stormwater related questions, call the professionals at R+R and see how we can help you and your business. There is a great deal of environmental responsibility that comes along with being a land or business owner; with locations and services throughout the entire Chesapeake Bay, R+R wants to make sure you are prepared to handle yours!

[1] “Watershed.” Chesapeake Bay Foundation: Saving a National Treasure. https://www.chesapeakebay.net/discover/watershed, 2019. Web. 16 Sept. 2019.

[2] “The History of Chesapeake Bay Cleanup Efforts.” Chesapeake Bay Foundation, https://www.cbf.org/how-we-save-the-bay/chesapeake-clean-water-blueprint/the-history-of-bay-cleanup-efforts.html, 2019. Web. 16 Sept. 2019.

[3] “Virginia’s Blueprint for Clean Water.” Chesapeake Bay Foundation, https://www.cbf.org/how-we-save-the-bay/chesapeake-clean-water-blueprint/blueprint-for-clean-water-va.html, 2019. Web. 16 Sept. 2019.

[4] “Pennsylvania’s Blueprint for Clean Water.” Chesapeake Bay Foundation, https://www.cbf.org/how-we-save-the-bay/chesapeake-clean-water-blueprint/blueprint-for-clean-water-pa.html, 2019. Web. 16 Sept. 2019.

[5] “Maryland’s Blueprint for Clean Water.” Chesapeake Bay Foundation, https://www.cbf.org/how-we-save-the-bay/chesapeake-clean-water-blueprint/blueprint-for-clean-water-md.html, 2019. Web. 16 Sept. 2019.

[6] “Stormwater Fees.” Chesapeake Bay Foundation. https://www.cbf.org/about-cbf/locations/maryland/issues/stormwater-fees.html, 2019. Web. 16 Sept. 2019.