As traffic rushes past on a road in Montgomery County, Maryland, three men work in ditch, one swinging a sledge hammer and the other two holding a white plastic pipe that the first man pounds into the ground.
The workers are building a stormwater pollution control device called a “bump out.” It’s a cutting-edge technique: a grassy area built by the side of the road, with openings at either end to catch and filter rainwater as it flows down the gutter.
Stormwater ain't a sexy subject. But it is a critically important one, because runoff from suburban and urban areas is the the fastest growing source of pollution in the Chesapeake Bay, and the only source of nitrogen and phosphorus pollution that has been increasing over the last quarter century, according to the EPA Chesapeake Bay Program.
Montgomery County, a suburban community of 972,000 people north of Washington, DC, plans to build hundreds of these "bump outs" and other stormwater pollution control devices over the next three and a half years as it spends $305 million to control runoff and to meet Chesapeake Bay pollution limits, according to Steve Shofar, Chief of the Watershed Management Division for Montgomery County.
“Especially in urban areas like Montgomery County, there are a lot of impervious surfaces (blacktop and roofs) that generate a lot of stormwater,” said Shofar (pictured at right). “And that stormwater picks up dirt, sediment, grease, lawn fertilizer and other things -– so you need to treat and filter the water to keep the pollution out of streams that lead to the Chesapeake Bay.”
Stormwater control projects are expected to create 3,300 construction jobs in Montomgery County over the next five years, and could create at least 178,000 jobs across the Bay region over this time periodaccording to an estimate in a report called “Water Works: Rebuilding Infrastructure, Creating Jobs, Greening the Environment,” that was released in October by the Economic Policy Institute and an advocacy group called Green for All. These jobs include about 36,000 construction jobs across Maryland, as well as 10,000 jobs in the District of Columbia, 80,000 jobs in Pennsylvania, and 52,000 jobs in Virginia, according to the Water Works report.
This job creation is discussed in length in the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s new report, “Debunking the ‘Job Killer’ Myth, How Pollution Limits Encourage Jobs in the Chesapeake Bay Region."
Hiring is already roaring along in Montgomery County as contractors build a variety of projects, including stream restorations projects, green roofs and stormwater containment ponds.
One of the laborers building the “bump out” on Stewart Lane in Montgomery County is Marcus Irving (left), a resident of Springfield, Maryland, who works for Highway and Safety Services, Inc. He held a board over the top of the plastic pipe as a co-worker hammered it into the ground.
During a break, Irving explained that he was glad to have the job, which pays $11.50 per hour.
“Before I got this job two months ago, I was out of work for eight months,” said Irving, a 34 year old father of two.
He said he had been laid off from a job laying cable for television cable company. “It was extremely tough, living day to day, basically,” Irving recalled. “But then this job opportunity became available, and it was a blessing. It’s a beautiful thing for me to be working again, feeling like an adult again, and putting food on the table for my family.”
Mike Peny, construction division manager for a firm called Angler Environmental, said his company boosted its employment by 12 percent this year, hiring 10 workers just to keep up with Montgomery County’s efforts to meet the Chesapeake Bay pollution limits.
Peny said that new Bay pollution limits (the Bay “Total Maximum Daily Load”) has been nothing but a help for his company. “This really creates jobs for us,” Peny said, as he stood beside a once-eroded stream called Booze Creek in Montgomery County that his company rebuilt. “These types of projects are what drive our ability to hire and stay in business.”
The stormwater control projects in Montgomery County projects are being funded through an annual $70.50 stormwater fee on the property tax bills of local residents, Shofar said.
Only a few local governments in the Bay watershed – including Takoma Park, Rockville, Annapolis and Richmond -- have such fees or aggressive policies for managing stormwater.
On February 16, 2010, the Maryland Department of the Environment approved a new stormwater control permit (called an MS4 permit) for Montgomery County that is one of the toughest of its kind in the region.
Among other things, the permit requires the county to rebuild or add stormwater pollution devices to 20 percent of its impervious surfaces, such as blacktop and roofs. That means about 4,300 acres.
One way the county will meet the permit’s requirements (and attain the new Bay pollution limits) will be through what is called “low-impact development.” This means planning for housing and commercial development projects so that they incorporate ample green space, which allows water to seep downward into the soil instead of funneling it into nearby streams.
Other stormwater control techniques being employed by Montgomery County include rain barrels; parking lots built from porous pavement to absorb rainwater; landscaping with native plants instead of grass; pond-like depressions called “bio-retention basins”; grassy ditches called “swales”; and underground storage tanks for stormwater, according to a county report about its “Environmental Site Design” strategies.
The county is also seeking to eliminate trash in the Potomac and Anacostia rivers through increased street sweeping, cracking down on illegal dumping, and stepped-up enforcement of anti-littering laws.
The result will be a cleaner, greener place to live -- and more jobs for the people struggling in a hard economy.
By Tom Pelton
Chesapeake Bay Foundation