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December 2011

Catching Richmond’s Runoff

Earlier this month, Bay Daily colleague Tom Pelton wrote about efforts in Lancaster, Pa., to convert some of that city’s paved areas to landscapes that more resemble a “green sponge.”

The idea is to reduce the amount of stormwater runoff that rushes off pavement and rooftops every time it rains. This runoff flushes pollution -- oil, dirt, bacteria, nutrients, and litter -- directly into nearby streams, erodes river banks, and causes mega problems for residents and critters downstream.

So Lancaster is encouraging the construction of “green” parking lots, roofs, alleys, and playgrounds that soak up rainwater and allow it to seep into the soil instead of running off to pollute nearby waterways.

Lancaster is not alone in efforts to find innovative ways to reduce stormwater runoff, the only major Chesapeake Bay pollutant that is getting worse instead of better. Among other Bay-region localities, Richmond, Va., has undertaken a number of pilot projects aimed at curbing – make that absorbing – stormwater runoff.

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Bay Comes Up Short in Virginia Governor’s Budget

Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell released his proposed two-year budget this week, and unless state legislators make big changes, Virginia may default on its Chesapeake Bay clean water bills.

Certainly there is some critically needed money in the governor’s biennial budget for Bay-related efforts, and in today’s anemic economy, that’s nothing to sneeze at. The proposed budget includes:

• $45 million for local sewage treatment plant upgrades. This represents surplus funds that state law requires to go into the Virginia Water Quality Improvement Fund (WQIF) for water quality purposes.
• $23 million for conservation cost-share programs that help farmers reduce pollution. This is money generated by surplus funds and a real estate recordation fee that by law go to the state’s Natural Resource Commitment Fund.
• $ 5 million from the Water Quality Improvement Fund reserve, money held back each year for local stormwater runoff planning.
• $1 million for state oyster replenishment efforts.

Gov.However, tallied against significant cuts in other clean water programs, the state’s water pollution needs, and Virginia’s commitments to the regional Chesapeake Bay restoration effort, the McDonnell budget falls short.

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Holiday Surprise: Some Political Agreement on Clean Water

Some hopeful signs this week that politicians can set aside partisan differences, at least temporarily, and work together to provide Americans with clean water.

At the national level, some members of Congress from both political parties agree that the federal government should spend more money to help fix the nation’s crumbling water infrastructure and to work cooperatively with U.S. cities and towns to solve nettlesome water pollution problems.

“In a rare display of bipartisan consensus, senators on the Water and Wildlife Subcommittee agreed that water infrastructure was one area, at least, in which more government spending could be used in part to boost the economy,” E&E Daily reported this week.

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Chesapeake News and Volunteer Opportunities

The Waterfront Partnership – a coalition of businesses, non-profits, and agencies – unveiled a new “Healthy Harbor” plan to curb pollution in order to make the Inner Harbor swimmable by 2020.  BaltimoreHarborThe strategy includes fixing sewage leaks and cleaning up unsightly trash in neighborhoods. 

In other news: 

  • In Delaware, efforts to create an offshore wind farm were derailed by numerous factors such as the loss of federal subsidies and a poor economy. 

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The Big Green Sponge

Lancaster Green AlleyCities and towns across the region are wrestling with how to reduce stormwater runoff and meet new pollution limits for the Chesapeake Bay.

Lancaster, Pennsylvania, an artsy and hip little city surrounded by Amish farmland, has come up with an interesting idea: This community of about 60,000 suggests it may spend perhaps $100 million rebuilding itself into a "big green sponge" to absorb rainwater.

The concept is to use a proposed new stormwater fee and tax credits to encourage the construction of parking lots, roofs, alleys, and playgrounds that soak up rainwater and allow it to seep down into the soil –- so the rain does not flush pollution downstream. Pictured above is a "green alley" under construction that will have gaps in it to allow water to soak into the Earth.

“You can use the ground, and the soil, to cleanse or filter out, all of the pollution that shouldn’t be in the Chesapeake Bay,” said Charlotte Katzenmoyer, the city’s Director of Public Works. “It’s really a matter of using the environment to our benefit.”

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While Building Market Sleeps, Some Counties Are Busy Encouraging Future Sprawl

SprawlThere may not be a lot of homes or businesses being built in the current real estate market, but there are major attempts to open farmland for developers when they’re ready.   

In Maryland at least, a new but untested state law might be the best defense against land speculators’ further incursion into the countryside.

A group of environmental groups and property owners filed a lawsuit Thursday, Dec. 8, against the county commissioners of Queen Anne’s County, Maryland, to stop the latest attempt by some local governments to pave over our rural landscape.

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Local Government OKs Massive Waterfront Development in Virginia

Development map
The Northumberland County (Va.) Board of Supervisors has approved the controversial Bluff Point development project.

The December 8 decision approves zoning changes needed by developer Tom Dingledine to build 530 homes, a resort hotel and spa, shops, restaurants, lakes, and a marina on 898 acres of sensitive waterfront property on Virginia’s historic Northern Neck.

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Talking, Not Balking on Eastern Shore

A crowded public forum this week to discuss Chesapeake Bay cleanup efforts on Virginia’s Eastern Shore didn’t conclude with everyone singing Kumbaya. But in the end there was a general mood of cooperation and a willingness to move forward on one of the biggest environmental restoration efforts in history.

The forum, hosted by state Delegate Lynwood Lewis, drew more than 175 people to Eastern Shore Community College on a stormy night to hear presentations and ask questions about what for some has become a stormy topic – EPA’s Bay pollution limits and Virginia’s plan to implement them.

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