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County unveils new stormwater pond in Laurel, and it's smart

Behind a Laurel shopping center is a lot more than just one more large puddle.

Near the loading docks for a Kohl’s, a Target and a liquor store, is a stormwater retention pond that got a major, solar-powered upgrade designed to make rainwater cleaner before it flows into the Little Patuxent River.

The retention pond was essentially a massive bathtub that collected and then drained stormwater runoff before the upgrades and retrofitting. But the new “smart pond” has monitors, checks the weather forecast and has a valve system that controls when the water is discharged.

It can keep runoff in place longer before releasing it, giving time for sediment, chemicals and pollutants to separate from the water before the liquid is released into waterways. It’s the first of its kind in Anne Arundel County.

“This pond is actively working, at this minute, to improve water quality,” said Marcus Quigley, the CEO of Opti, one of the environmental technology firms behind the upgrades.

Like many retention ponds, water flows into a cage that screens out bulk debris like branches andtrash. But the upgraded version also has a valve that controls how fast the water flows out, a feature that can prevent flooding and keep water in the retention pond longer so that pollutants can settle.

On the nearby banks is a solar-powered computer system that’s the brains behind the system. The county can use a tablet computer to monitor the retention pond and, if needed, adjust the water’s flow.

It can handle big storms and clean rainwater before it’s discharged, said Erik Michelsen, the administrator of the county’s Watershed Protection and Restoration Program.

“It’s completely capturing the one-year rain event … and slowly metering it out,” he said.

Built by Opti and Res, two firms that specialize in environmental projects, the new system cost the county about $700,000. The upgrades were ceremoniously unveiled in Laurel from the Corridor Marketplace’s back parking lot on Thursday.

County Executive Steve Schuh said that regional storms, and the sediment and debris that washed into Maryland’s waterways showed how important it is to have strong stormwater management systems. In particular he noted the water that crested the Conowingo Dam on the lower Susquehanna River, washing debris downstream in the process.

“That release has been a disaster. Beaches, anchorages, marinas, wetlands, all trashed because of poor stormwater management,” Schuh said. “It will take weeks to clean it all up, and that’s what we can see along the beaches and the waterfronts. The impact on the sea bottom? We will never know.”

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