More than $9 million in grants to help Chesapeake Bay restoration effort

Grants to help groups plant trees, restore wetlands and install green roofs, like this one atop Blue Water Baltimore's building on Belair Road. (Kim Hairston, 2008 / August 28, 2012)

The Chesapeake Bay cleanup got a shot in the arm today (Tuesday, 8/28), as federal and nonprofit officials announced grants totaling $9.2 million for planting trees, restoring wetlands, installing rain gardens and other projects across the watershed.

The announcement was made at the Maryland Science Center in Baltimore's Inner Harbor, where one of the grants will help replace an existing parking lot with rain-absorbing "pervious concrete," intended to reduce polluted storm-water runoff.  The press conference was planned to highlight such urban water-quality efforts, with more than $800,000 in grants being handed out for projects in the Baltimore area alone.

Funding for the grants comes from the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, a government-sponsored nonprofit that supports conservation efforts using a combination of federal funds and private donations.

"With NFWF's invaluable support these projects will make a difference, supporting progress toward a bay that is increasingly healthy and resilient," Jeff Corbin, EPA's senior advisor for the Chesapeake Bay and Anacostia River, said in the release announcing the grants.  Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md, was among those scheduled to be on hand for the event.

The grant announcement comes as local officials across the watershed have been complaining about the costs of complying with EPA's "pollution diet" for restoring the bay's water quality. Officials in several communities have blanched at estimates in the hundreds of millions and even billions of dollars for cleanup work projected over the next 13 years.  Some fear the steep cost estimates could provoke a political backlash stalling the restoration effort.

EPA and foundation officials pointed out that the grants will support 41 restoration projects in Maryland, the District of Columbia and the other five bay watershed states.  The work is expected to involve 9,000 volunteers in restoring 176 miles of streamside forests and 158 acres of wetlands, while creating 170,000 square feet of green roofs and rain gardens.  All the projects are targeted at controlling polluted runoff, one of the most challenging and costly aspects of the bay restoration.

Among the grants announced, three target the Baltimore area:

- $324,000 to the Center for Urban Environmental Research and Education at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.  The center will work with the Maryland Transit Administration and State Highway Administration to try out runoff controls such as pervious concrete and a practice called subsoiling, in which ground is loosened to soak up more rainfall. 

- $400,000 to Blue Water Baltimore, the area's stream and harbor stewardship group.  It will use the funds to expand its residential water audit program, which gives free storm-water runoff assessments to property owners and helps them pay for reducing it.  The program aims to help 5,000 homeowners install rain barrels, plant rain gardens, install green roofs and other runoff controls.

- $89,105 to the Gunpowder Valley Conservancy, which intends to reach out to homeowners in the Middle River and tidal Gunpowder watersheds to adopt storm-water controls on their land, including planting trees and installing rain gardens.

For more info and a full listing of grants, go here