Here are some things you’ll be hearing a lot about in coming years, when it comes to the local ecosystem: Rain gardens. Downspout diversions. Impermeable surfaces.
They’re all part of a plan revealed Feb. 28 at the to help Baltimore County comply with state and federal clean water laws by reducing pollution from roads and neighborhoods that drain into local streams.
The Lower Patapsco Small Watershed Action Plan (SWAP) lists 60 projects that could significantly reduce pollutants such as nitrogen, phosphorus and sediments flowing into the Chesapeake Bay, according to Nathan Forand, natural resource specialist in the Department of Environmental Protection and Resource Management.
“There’s a game plan now,” said Nancy E. Roth, watershed program manager who presented the results of a draft study showing the impact of implementing the recommended SWAP actions. “Now we can go forward and track progress.”
The Lower Patapsco Watershed encompasses about 27 square miles and includes Catonsville, Arbutus and the southwest portion of Baltimore County. It is home to about 85,600 people, according to Roth.
The watershed is about 42 percent residential and 28 percent forested, with more than 213 linear miles of streams and creeks that feed into the Patapsco River.
“For a fairly urbanized watershed, it really is kind of a jewel,” Roth said. “There are some really very nice places in the watershed and this is what we’re looking to preserve.”
The area includes older developments and has a diversity of pollution sources and numerous sources of runoff, she said.
While the Patapsco River may look visibly cleaner than it has in the past, sources of pollutants remain that are important to control, said Kit Valentine, president of Friends of Patapsco Valley & Heritage Greenway, a group involved in stream cleanups, restoration and other environmental projects.
“We no longer have raw sewage coming down the valley and we no longer have dye coming out of the textile mills,” Valentine said. “Since the 1970s, there’s a general sense that we’ve improved the water quality of the Patapsco. But petroleum products, the salts we put on our roads—there are a whole lot of issues we’re concerned about.”
About 21 percent of the watershed is impervious—rooftops, pavement and parking lots, according to Roth.
One of the actions listed in the SWAP report is to remove or modify impervious surfaces, which allows water to filter through the ground before reaching streams.
Over the years, many streams were turned into concrete-lined culverts that mainlined polluted water directly into storm drain systems. Restoring streams so that water flows more naturally encourages “a healthy stream system with diverse aquatic life” that preserves natural resources and reduces the “pollution diet” flowing into Chesapeake Bay, Roth said.
If the SWAP plan were fully implemented over a 10-year period, the nitrogen load flowing from the Lower Patapsco Watershed could be reduced up to 17.5 percent, phosphorus reduced by as much as 34.5 percent, and sediments by up to 33.7 percent—depending on the resources and money earmarked for the projects, according to Roth.
Some of the actions, such as street sweeping or planting trees, are tasks that fall on the municipal government. The report also includes actions that residents can take to help improve the watershed, including planting native vegetation and disconnecting downspouts from the storm drain system.
Baltimore County is encouraging residents to disconnect downspouts from storm drains and allow the water to filter through the ground or collect in a rain barrel. The county has scheduled the annual compost bin and rain barrel sale for April 14 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Carver Center for the Arts at 938 York Road in Towson.
“Somebody gave us one at the school, and I’m trying to figure out how it’s hooked up,” said Carol Schexnayder, a teacher at who runs the school’s Green Club, examining a rain barrel brought to the library for the meeting.
County officials suggest several ways residents can help improve the watershed:
- Plant a rain garden—an area downstream with plants that are accustomed to conditions from dry to flooded, which helps hold and filter water.
- Disconnect downspouts from the storm drain system; let rain water flow onto the ground or use a rain barrel or rain garden to capture rooftop runoff.
- Plant native trees, shrubs and perennials; shrink the area of your yard devoted to lawn.
- Allow a “no-mow” buffer zone to grow along streams.
- Plant trees in yards, parks and along streets.
- Reduce or eliminate the use of fertilizers and pesticides; keep them off driveways and sidewalks.
- Clean up after your pets. Put bagged waste in the trash, never down a storm drain.
- Wash your car at the car wash, where the water gets treated, rather than at home.
- Keep your street’s storm drains clear of trash and leaves.
- Water only when and where it’s really needed.
- Participate in an organization such as Friends of the Patapsco Valley and Heritage Greenway.
Baltimore County has a web site to inform the public about the Lower Patapsco SWAP project at www.baltimorecountymd.gov/patapsco.
The final version of the SWAP report will be posted in April, Roth said.