After 27 years working in Montgomery County's Department of Environmental Protection, Jim Caldwell left to try something new, taking a management-level job in 2007 at a manufacturing facility for gelato ingredients.
"What I found is I kind of didn't have a passion for gelato like some people do," Caldwell said in a recent interview. "I like local government."
Last year, after spending two years running his own environmental consulting business, Caldwell, 57, got the chance to return to local government — this time in Howard, his home county.
Caldwell, a longtime Mt. Airy resident, had been serving on the county's Environmental Sustainability Board when Josh Feldmark, director of the county's Office of Sustainability told him about a new position the county had created to manage the county's efforts to combat storm water runoff.
Caldwell applied for the job, and was chosen from among some 60 applicants. He began the $72,000-a-year job Oct. 24.
"He understands the issue of storm water as well if not better than anybody I've ever met, including myself," Feldmark said.
Ned Tillman, chairman of the Environmental Sustainability Board, said he served with Caldwell on the sustainability board since 2008 and before that on a commission County Executive Ken Ulman had formed to study environmental issues.
"He's certainly qualified," Tillman said of Caldwell's new role. "It's kind of lucky for us because he certainly dealt with all these issues in his job over at Montgomery County."
Minus the short stint in the gelato manufacturing industry, Caldwell, who has a master's degree in environmental management from American University, has spent his entire career working on water quality issues and programs aimed at protecting the Chesapeake Bay.
Storm water management, he said, is an important part of cleaning up the Bay and keeping it clean. But it's not an easy task.
"It's going to take money," Caldwell said. "It's going to take innovative thought, and it's going to take the entire community entering into the solution."
Caldwell's job, in a nutshell, is to pull all those pieces together and make sure the county continues to make strides in reducing its storm water runoff.
A few months into the job, Caldwell has spent a lot of his time meeting people, making connections with community groups and other government agencies, and researching storm water management efforts elsewhere that could work in Howard.
"I'm still collecting all the puzzle pieces," Caldwell said.
Once all the pieces have been collected, they need to be able to fit together to meet federal mandates, which limit how much nitrogen, phosphorus, sediments and other pollutants are allowed to run off into the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.
Caldwell said he — and the county — face three main challenges in meeting those mandates.
• Gearing up government
Right now, Caldwell said, at least five or six different parts of county government have a role to play in Howard's storm water management efforts.
Feldmark said Caldwell's internal challenge is to take all the work the various government agencies and departments have done and "bring that together in a much more comprehensive program … getting a handle on it all and getting everyone to move forward in the same direction."
And even though Howard County has already done a lot of work, Caldwell said not everyone is prepared for what is to come from the federal mandates.