Severn Watershed News
January 2012 - Community & Environmental Defense Services (CEDS) has just completed a Severn River Preliminary Watershed Audit. The poor condition of existing stormwater BMPs, the large amount of exposed soil on construction sites, and the few proposed projects meeting forest conservation requirements on site does not bode well for efforts to restore the Severn and the Bay like the Chesapeake Pollution Diet, Watershed Implementation Plans, and the NPDES Municipal Stormwater Permits.
Comprehensive Watershed Audits, such as that conducted in the Severn River system, is a new approach developed by CEDS for accelerating aquatic resource recovery by augmenting efforts to bring watershed activities into compliance with clean-water laws. The Audit begins with a preliminary survey of regulated activities within a watershed to determine if pollution releases exceed allowed limits. CEDS then uses Equitable Solutions to assist those responsible for each activity to quickly halt excessive pollution releases. When this cooperation first/Equitable Solutions approach fails to halt the pollution, CEDS uses Smart Legal Strategies to achieve full compliance.
The first Preliminary Audit has just been completed in the Severn River watershed. The Audit was conducted in concert with the Severn River Association (SRA).
The principal findings of the Preliminary Audit are:
- A very small sampling of the 2,000 existing stormwater Best Management Practices (BMPs) in the Severn watershed indicate that (depending upon BMP type) a third- to all no longer provide pollution reduction benefits;
- These BMPs could be keeping up to 1.4 million pounds of pollutants out of the Severn annually, but are likely trapping just a fraction;
- The high BMP failure rate is most likely due to the County stormwater inspection staff having gone from seven full-time employees in the 1990s to one today;
- While the Chesapeake Bay Pollution Diet and Watershed Implementation Planning efforts assume 66% of construction site soils are treated with highly-effective temporary stabilization measures (straw mulch, grass seeding, etc.), a very limited sample indicates 10% to 30% may be a more accurate figure, at least in the Severn River watershed;
- A review of recently submitted subdivision plans shows the County denied approval for one project because of Environmental Site Design (ESD) short-comings, another received an ESD waiver, and while the other two pre-date ESD both could easily be modified to incorporate ESD measures at a likely cost savings to the developer and greater protection for the Severn;
- While retaining a minimum of 50% of the Severn watershed in forest is critical to River quality and existing forest cover is 42%, only one of the four proposed projects met 100% of ESD forest conservation requirements on site;
- Projects built anywhere from five- to 15-years ago were assessed for compliance with the forest conservation easement areas shown on the plat for each. It appears that all easement areas shown on the plats are still in forest; and
- The Preliminary review indicates that the two permitted point source discharges to the Severn are in full compliance with pollution discharge limits.
The Severn River Preliminary Watershed Audit report is available at: ceds.org/audit
In the past, watershed advocates would have relied completely on regulatory agencies to verify and correct the deficiencies noted in this Preliminary Audit. However, given unusually tight budgets and the limited capability of these agencies, CEDS and the Severn River Association have opted for a much more proactive approach.
Jointly they will be working directly with the parties responsible for each of the failing facilities. The SRA and CEDS will offer help in getting the parties the technical assistance and other resources needed to swiftly restore failing facilities.
The SRA and CEDS will also reach out to residents of the Severn River watershed who do not normally become directly involved in this type of effort. Many of these people live near facilities which could go from an asset to a quality of life detriment if not properly maintained. CEDS and the SRA hope to enlist these residents in monitoring facilities and providing government with the public support essential to maintaining each at peak-pollution trapping efficiency.
Finally, every home in the watershed is no more than a 15-minute walk from the Severn or a tributary stream. These waters could provide many benefits to these residents. But most are probably unaware that the waters exist or fear the possible presence of pollution. The SRA and CEDS will seek to educate residents about all they could gain by actively supporting the effort to fully restore the Severn. For further detail contact CEDS at 410-654-3021, Help@ceds.org or visit: ceds.org/audit. For more information about the Severn River Association please visit their website severnriver.org
Community & Environmental Defense Services
811 Crystal Palace Court
Owings Mills, MD 21117