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Survey finds flaws in Maryland storm-water database

The costly struggle to reduce storm-water pollution in Maryland may be harder than previously thought - because much of what's been done so far to control runoff has been misreported, allowed to deteriorate - or perhaps never even done.

That's the upshot of a new survey by Owings Mills environmental consultant Richard Klein. Of 175 storm-water retention ponds, rain gardens and other "best management practices" for capturing runoff that he checked out in Baltimore city and nine of Maryland's largest counties, Klein found that 40 percent of them were either misidentified or impossible to find at all.

Klein, founder and head of Community & Environmental Defense Services, relied for his survey on "StormPrint," a computerized data base of storm-water controls that's been developed by the Maryland Department of the Environment. It's supposed to map and describe new and existing runoff control projects.

More than 32,000 storm-water "best management practices" have been reportedly installed statewide since the 1970s, Klein said.  But roughly a quarter of the listings he checked out he said he couldn't find at all, and some he found up to 600 feet from their listed locations - that's two football fields away.

About a third of the listed control projects he did find were misidentified, he said, which could make a big difference in some cases how much rainfall they could be expected to capture and filter. And while searching for the listed projects, he said he found 14 not mentioned anywhere in StormPrint.

The storm-water data base was least reliable in Baltimore city and Baltimore County, he reported, where location and type of control project were reported accurately only 13 percent and 19 percent of the time, respectively.  Anne Arundel County was third worst, with only 44 percent of its listed projects accurately mapped and identified.   Only three counties - Howard, Frederikc and Prince George's - had spotless listings.

An MDE spokesman didn't dispute Klein's findings, calling "StormPrint" a work in progress.  But Klein said it needs to be corrected and updated because the projects listed there are used by regulators to calculate how much more each community needs to do to control its runoff. 

The problem also could get much worse before long, he added. The number of controls is expected to soar in coming years as state and federal regulators press for greater community efforts to reduce polluted runoff by replacing pavement with rain gardens, "bioswales," green roofs and the like.  But some local governments, notably Anne Arundel, already have too few inspectors to check on all the current storm-water control projects in their boundaries, he found. To keep tabs on existing and new efforts, Klein argues that governments need to enlist volunteer help from neighborhood groups and individual residents.

Klein's survey comes as the state takes public comment on its proposed requirements for Baltimore city to curtail its storm-water pollution. Several environmental groups testified at a hearing last week that MDE needs to impose stricter deadlines and accountability on city official in renewing Baltimore's storm-water permit.

David Flores, water quality manager for Blue Water Baltimore, also pointed out that the city's streams and the harbor are fouled by trash and numerous sewage leaks into storm drains.  Flores noted that the stream locations sampled by the city in 2009 and 2010 often had high enough bacteria counts even in dry weather to make them unhealthy for going in the water.  He and others urged the state to require more stream monitoring and to insist on finding and fixing the myriad sewer leaks responsible for the bactieral contamination.

A city public works spokeswoman released a statement defending the state's proposed requirements now, noting that they are the product of two years of negotiations between city officials and state regulators.  The storm-water permit give the city five years to signficiantly reduce its runoff, which spokeswoman Kia McLeod claled "a difficult challenge but one that the city is prepared to meet."  The state is giving the city some flexibility in planning runoff control efforts, she added, so that new, possibly more effective (and less expensive) technology may be chosen.

The state has extended its time for taking public comments on the city's storm-water permit until Sept. 21.  Go here for more or to comment.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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