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In The Country

"April Shower"

Tim Iverson
Naturalist

(4/2015) The Potomac River is often called the "Nationís River", and every year there is an assessment compiled by a non-profit clean water advocacy organization, the Potomac Conservancy. The overall state of the nationís river has been turbulent throughout recent years and decades. As recently as 2011 the Potomac River was classified with a ĎDí grade. American Rivers, another clean water advocacy group, listed the Potomac as the nationís "Most Endangered River" in 2012. There has been some progress though, and the Potomac Conservancy upgraded the state of the Potomac from a ĎDí to a ĎCí in 2013. This annual "State of the Nationís River" report has not yet been released for 2014. This assessment is based off of fish populations, overall quality of habitat and water, and surrounding land use.

While all roads lead to Rome, our regional rivers lead to the Chesapeake Bay - the largest and most productive estuary in the United States. The most recent report, released in 2014, denotes the overall health of the Chesapeake Bay at a ĎD+í grade. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation releases an updated report every two years based on fisheries populations (crabs, Rockfish, and oysters primarily), acreage of bay grasses, total poundage of estimated pollution emptied into the bay and its tributary waterways. While the overall report card seems dismal the report itself highlights a mixed bag of takeaway themes. On the bright side: overall water quality is improving, bay grassess and oyster populations saw a +2 point increase. However, there was an overall decline in blue crab and rockfish populations, and forested buffer zones. This report highlights areas of progress and areas that need improvement. Restoration is costly, but failure to do so would be catastrophic.

There is a path to restoration called the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. This is a provision of the Clean Water Act enacted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In 2010, the EPA began to legally enforce the "Total Maximum Daily Load" (TMDL) which is a scientifically derived basis of the acceptable amount of total pollutants the water system can handle while still being productive and meet water quality standards. Six states (Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, W. Virginia) and the District of Columbia are now required to incrementally reduce nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment pollution over two year periods through 2025. Nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment are the top three pollutants contaminating the bay. Farms and agribusiness are responsible for 41% of the polluted runoff, but urban and suburban areas are responsible for 15% of the total deposited amount.

In order to ensure shared responsibility of a clean and productive estuary each state must meet the scientifically derived limits by 2025. The blueprint defines the parameters of what must be done, but itís entirely up to the states to decide how to go about doing it. The task falls to each state to figure out how to best reduce the pollution generated through runoff. Maryland has its very own specific blueprint to reduce our TMDLís with several robust and progressive initiatives. One of these initiatives was established by MD House Bill 987: Stormwater Management - Watershed Protection and Restoration Program. This law gave us the infamous "Storm Water Remediation Fee," often derided as the "Rain Tax." Currently the fate of this law is uncertain. Court battles have already reduced the impact and jurisdiction of the law, and Gov. Hogan has introduced legislation to repeal the law altogether. The spirit of the law was to create revenue specifically allocated to combat the leading source of pollution and biggest threat to the Chesapeake Bay. Whether Gov. Hogan is successful or not may make little overall difference. Each state is federally mandated, and subsequently each county and locality, for reducing polluted runoff - this will likely require tax dollars.

Stormwater runoff undoubtedly holds one of the biggest pieces of the puzzle to the overall health of the Chesapeake Bay. So, whatís a homeowner to do? Regardless of whether or not youíre getting taxed on the rain you can help mitigate the effects. The issue with runoff is that the stormwater picks up pollutants and chemicals from impervious surfaces like roads, sidewalks, and roofs and carries them to drains and rivers instead of through the ground where those nasties get filtered out through the soil. Governments certainly play a role in remediating this problem, but citizens can help reduce the overall impact as well.

Citizens canít prevent rain, but they can prevent run off. Collecting rain in rain barrels or by constructing rain gardens you can strategically utilize rain, reduce runoff, and save on your utility bill. A rain barrel is a storage system used to collect rain from downspouts and roofs. They are inexpensive and collected water can be used for anything. All you need is a 50 - 60 gallon drum (sold at hardware and outdoor stores), PVC coupling to connect to downspouts or roof drainage areas, screening to keep insects and debris out of the barrel, and a hose is optional.

For many homeowners up to 40% of summer water usage is dedicated to watering gardens and lawns, this can help to reduce that number and your water bills. A slightly more ambitious do it yourself project would be to plant a rain garden. Rain gardens are a landscaped area that hold stormwater so it will infiltrate into the soil as opposed to becoming runoff. These shallow depressions are low maintenance and beautify homes and neighborhoods. Other benefits include reducing erosion and flooding, recharging the water table, and increased property values. There are many how-to guides online or a local landscaping company can assist you with installing one.

We drink it, we bathe in it, we play in it, and we need it. Our water is invaluable and irreplaceable. The quality and state of the nations river and the most productive estuary the country has been in jeopardy for some time. Things are getting better, but the call to action is still ringing. By doing what we can and playing our part on a local level we can make that 15% difference. Collecting rain water so we use less from the infrastructure, planting rain gardens to reduce runoff and filter water, or participating in river clean ups are all small tokens that can add up to big impacts. Ensuring we have the cleanest possible water pays dividends for our wallets, our ecosystems, and ourselves. Hereís to the April showers that bring May flowers!

Read other articles by Tim Iverson