Lawmakers aim to clean up stormwater

By PAMELA WOOD, Staff Writer

State lawmakers in Annapolis are dealing with a dirty word these days: stormwater.

They're giving serious consideration to a bill that would require developers and builders to use newer techniques that slow down and cleanse rainwater naturally before it hits creeks and streams.

"Stormwater is a big problem ... It's a problem in terms of the bay, it's a problem in terms of development, it's a problem in terms of pollution," Sen. Jim Rosapepe, D-College Park, said in a hearing yesterday.

The bill, sponsored by Mr. Rosapepe and others, would require builders to first try to control stormwater using a technique called "environmental site design."

Essentially, they'd have to try to get their finished site to mimic the way stormwater rolled off the land before development started. To do that, they'd be encouraged to use techniques such as green roofs, rain gardens and rain barrels.

Because stormwater permits are issued on a local level, the bill would require each county and city to change its stormwater regulations. The local governments will be able to use a model rule that the Maryland Department of the Environment will draft, or write their own rule.

When stormwater is uncontrolled or poorly controlled, it rushes along pavement, picks up dirt and pollution and ends up sullying creeks and streams that feed the Chesapeake Bay.

When it's allowed to slowly seep into the ground, it doesn't have harmful effects.

Mr. Rosapepe said the new kind of stormwater controls aren't really new at all. They're being used often in other states and Europe, but not so much here because Maryland laws only encourage their use.

Drew Koslow, the riverkeeper for the South River, said old techniques like sediment-control ponds don't do the job.

He said testing by volunteers around the river's watershed shows the spots with the worst nutrient pollution and bacteria are the ones downstream of sediment ponds.

"We know the best available technologies. We know it's less expensive to implement than the old techniques," he said.

Representatives from building groups initially opposed the bill, but are supporting it now that some technical amendments have been offered. The Maryland Municipal League and the Maryland Association of Counties have come on board as well.

While the bill addresses stormwater running off new developments, it doesn't address existing buildings that were constructed before the first stormwater control laws in the 1980s.

There has been a movement in Anne Arundel County to institute a fee on all properties that would raise money to fix damaged streams and add stormwater retrofits to old neighborhoods.

But the proposal hasn't gained political traction within the County Council.

Published March 21, 2007, The Capital, Annapolis, Md.

(Revised March 2007)