Rethinking Coastal Development in Virginia Beach
The Toothless Approach Didn't Cut It

Combating Polluted Runoff in Prince George's County

Alternative compliance forestville church
Leaders of the Forestville New Redeemer Baptist Church, the county Department of the Environment, and other officials, break ground at the church for the Alternative Compliance Program. Photo courtesy of Prince George’s County.

The work of the Lord goes on inside Forestville New Redeemer Baptist Church on Sunday, where the pews are full, and the music spirited. But come spring, it also will go on outside in the parking lot.

Like any other popular church or synagogue, New Redeemer has a large lot to accommodate the cars of parishioners. But polluted runoff from parking lots, roofs, streets, and other hard surfaces are the main source of pollution to nearby creeks and rivers as they run through Prince George's County, MD where the church is located. Rainwater flushes off these surfaces, erodes stream banks, and suffocates the life of the streams and the Chesapeake Bay beyond. The runoff also carries oils, weed killer, fertilizer, and other contaminants from the suburban landscape into the streams.

Prince George's County has an innovative idea to encourage religious organizations and other non-profits to reduce this pollution and to spread the word for cleaner water. The county kicked off its Alternative Compliance Program Oct. 22.

The program allows any church, synagogue, or non-profit to reduce the amount of its annual stormwater fee if it will:

  • Let the county improve the drainage and filtration of rainwater from church parking lots, roofs, or other hard surfaces and/or,
  • Encourage other churches and non-profits to plant trees and take other steps to retard polluted runoff.

The second criterion is especially innovative, essentially giving monetary credit to churches and synagogues that preach green.

Forestville New Redeemer Baptist Church was the first organization to join the program. It has agreed to allow county contractors to install tree planters, rain barrels, permeable pavers, cisterns, and "rain gardens" on church property this coming spring. All these best management practices will help slow down and filter polluted runoff before it leaves the church grounds.

So effective are the practices that close to 100 percent of the first inch of a rainfall will be purified, said Adam Ortiz, director of the county's Department of the Environment, in a Prince George's Gazette article about the program.

The work also will make the grounds of Forestville New Redeemer Baptist more beautiful: more garden-like. And the church will save money. Ortiz told the Gazette that by simply letting the county perform the upgrades it will reduce its annual stormwater fee from $150 to $30.    

Church officials said it was a no brainer.

"God wants us to keep the Earth clean. It goes way back to the Garden of Eden," Assistant Pastor Juanita Browser told the Gazette. "I believe the Lord would have us to do the same right now today."

The program is only possible, however, because of the county's new stormwater fee. The county uses the annual charge on households, businesses, and non-profits to make direct improvements to the county's aging stormwater system, but also to leverage further improvements on private property. The New Redeemer project will cost about $100,000.

"Government can't do this alone," Pastor Nathaniel B. Thomas told the Washington Post. "We play a great role in the community in being not only a change agent but whenever there are issues and concerns that come about, we are there, and we have a great impact."

The program also is meant to inspire others to help reduce polluted runoff. It's working already.

Forestville New Redeemer member Frank Brown, 54, of Temple Hills, told the Gazette he plans to have a rain barrel installed at his home.

"This is the only planet we have to live on," Brown said. "If we don't take care of it, we're going to make it harder and harder to have resources to utilize, clean water, good air to breathe."

 —Tom Zolper, CBF's Maryland Communications Coordinator

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