April 30, 2020
The Baltimore Sun | The Capital Gazette – April 29, 2020 – The Maryland Department of Transportation maintains thousands of miles of roadway in the state — thousands of miles of land covered in pavement that rain water can’t filter through.
Instead it runs off the roads picking up pollutants along the way, gaining speed and heat in the summer and ultimately contributing to the impairment of creeks, streams and rivers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
MDOT has an obligation to mitigate some of that damage, and last week announced a new pilot program that would give the department credit for reducing pollution through educational initiatives. Entities have long been encouraged to educate citizens about the bay, but if this new program is successful, they could also get credit toward obligations they have under stormwater permits for teaching others how to reduce pollution.
“When students are moved to install rain gardens for capturing stormwater runoff or take mass transit for reducing harmful emissions, those actions can be tracked, pollutant reductions can be measured and stormwater discharges can be reduced,” the Maryland Department of Environment said in a media release.
Last November the state Department of Environment approved a change in the Department of Transportation’s Municipal Separate Stormwater System Discharge Permit, often referred to as an MS4 permit and administered through the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES).
The permit requires MDOT to restore 20% of the impervious area it covers by October 2020, and as of July 1, 2019, the state had treated 3,472 of the 4,621 acres required.
Last November the permit was amended to allow participation in the state’s Water Quality Trading Program, through which groups can purchase credits for actions others take to reduce phosphorus, nitrogen or sediment pollution.
In its first exchange last year, MDOT paid $4 million to install “smart ponds” with sensors and remote-operated drains to mitigate stormwater runoff at four Walmart, Inc. properties, and in exchange was credited for 100 acres of mitigation.
On Earth Day, the state announced a pilot program that will explore a whole new realm of nutrient trading — education. The question, which the state aims to answer through this pilot program, is exactly how much area entities should be credited for treating when they teach others how to be kinder to the environment.
MDE says that might include using less fertilizer or using a rain barrel to collect water from one’s roof.
Transportation Secretary Gregory Slater said in a statement that the idea for an education best management practice, or BMP, came from litter.
In 2018, the department spent more than $9 million dealing with litter, and Slater thinks education could help just as much as picking up trash.
“Working with Living Classrooms and other Bay partners, this program will help us empower one of our greatest resources in cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay – our young people,” Slater said.
For the pilot program, MDOT has partnered with the Baltimore-based Living Classrooms Foundation. The Maryland Department of Environment has called the proposal promising and humanistic. MDE also established milestones for the foundation and department to report back on what people are learning and how their behavior is changing.
By looking at participant surveys and other measurable metrics, MDE and MDOT hope to calculate approximately how much pollution is being reduced through education, then based on that they will be able to say how much credit MDOT gets. The departments said the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Urban Stormwater Work Group and the Chesapeake Bay Trust will work with the team on that scientifically-based approach, according to the media release.
Chesapeake Bay Trust Executive Director Jana Davis said the trust has supported environmental engagement and education for years because those programs create stewardship-minded adults. Now it is a matter of measuring that effect so the credit can go to the state.
“It’s an opportunity for the average resident in this region to feel like they can help, and feel credited for that help,” Davis said.
For the pilot program, MDOT can earn as much as 100 acres in credit, MDE wrote when approving the program.
Article written by Rachael Pacella