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January 18, 2010

Storm over storm-water rules

New regulations intended to reduce polluted storm-water runoff in Maryland have sparked a backlash among developers and local officials, who contend the rules undermine the state's Smart Growth policy by making it too expensive to redevelop urban and older suburban areas.

A forum at the Maryland Department of the Environment on Friday drew a standing-room crowd, mostly of developers and local officials who came to air their grievances over the rules. You can read a story I wrote about the forum in today's Baltimore Sun.

The new rules discourage the now-common practice of collecting storm runoff in ponds or underground tanks, in favor of letting the rain soak into soil, whether on open ground or green roofs, like the one shown above on a new elementary school in St. Mary's County.  Drawn up in response to a 2007 law mandating tighter controls over storm runoff, the rules are scheduled to be enforced by local governments starting May 4. But developers contend they'll add hundreds of thousands and even millions of dollars to the costs of large projects, and make some uneconomical by forcing them to leave more of their sites undeveloped.

Builders and local officials are pushing for the state to exempt or "grandfather" building projects already planned under the current rules. And they're demanding "flexibility" or relaxation of the rules for redevelopment projects, which are favored under the state's Smart Growth policy to encourage development in and around existing communities.

State officials say they're reviewing the complaints, but point out that projects already approved under the current storm runoff rules won't have to go back to the drawing board. They also contend there's plenty of flexibility already built into the new rules, though they require different techniques than developers are accustomed to using.  Environmentalists even presented some examples of "low-impact development" that they contend actually cost less than the current methods, by using porous pavement, "rain gardens" and other techniques.  More about those here and here.

Storm-water runoff is a major source of pollution degrading the Chesapeake Bay, and officials say it's a growing problem that needs to be curbed if the bay is to be restored.  But critics contend that the rules on recycling developed sites are so strict they'll push builders out into the countryside, where they'll exacerbate the state's loss of farmland and forest.  Even green-leaning lawmakers say they want to make sure the rules don't discourage redevelopment. Expect to hear more about this from Annapolis as the General Assembly cranks up.

Posted by Tim Wheeler at 11:00 AM | | Comments (2)


This is a huge issue in the architecture/engineering/construction industry here in Maryland. The existing policy gives significant credit for redevelopment of existing impervious cover (parking areas roofs etc). That credit is eliminated in the new rules for most potential sites. The new rules are written with a TON of ambiguity (they require sites to use environmental site design techniques to the "maximum extent practicable" - whatever that means?). Further, the shift towards a multitude of small treatment practices causes more maintenance burden on the owner of a building & poor maintenance is currently what most often reduces the effectivenes of traditional stormwater BMPs in my opinion. Fianlly, I question the technical basis for this shift in policy. I have personally monitored the performace of traditional BMPs (sand filters, wet ponds, shallow wetlands etc) over the years and have found them to be very effective in improving water quality and attenuating storm flows is properly designed, constructed and maintained. Why not insentivise engineers and developers to use ESD and monitor the effectiveness on a subwatershed basis prior to revamping the whole system by force?

I find the traditional stormwater bmps really effective and I don't see any reason why we should change them now. The proposal, which will of course be more expensive will just be another blow for us residents who are barely making it in these economically-challenging times.

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About the bloggers
Tim WheelerTim Wheeler reports on the environment and Chesapeake Bay. A native of West Virginia, he has focused mainly on Maryland's environment since moving here in 1983. Along the way, he's crewed aboard a skipjack in the bay, canoed under city streets up the Jones Fall from the Inner Harbor, and gone deep underground in a western Maryland coal mine. He loves seafood, rambles in the country and good stories. He hopes to share some here.

Contributor Christy Zuccarini has been blogging about the local DIY craft scene for a year for She brings her pespective on all things handmade to B'More Green, where she will highlight projects you can do yourself as well as crafters who are integrating sustainable methods and materials.

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