Presentation outlines green practices to protect Patapsco River Watershed

The advice was general, but heeding it could make a major impact on local water systems.

From marking storm drains with simple warnings to encouraging residents to plant native plants, more than 20 people learned some actions that will improve the environment of the Patapsco River Watershed during a Tuesday evening meeting at the Catonsville Library..

Members of the Baltimore County Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability offered those suggestions and revealed the results of pollution surveys and stream assessments performed throughout the Patapsco River Watershed during the session.

The watershed contains all of Arbutus, Catonsville, Halethorpe, Lansdowne and Oella. It is bordered by Liberty Reservoir and the Carroll County line to the north, the Patapsco River and Howard County to the west and Anne Arundel County and Baltimore City to the south where Patapsco flows into the harbor and eventually the Chesapeake Bay..

The Oct. 25 meeting was the second of three to be hosted by the department as its prepares its Small Watershed Action Plan (SWAP) for the lower Patapsco River watershed.

"(A SWAP) is a strategy that the county develops, along with assistance from consultants, on how we will improve our streams and rivers within specific planning areas," said Nathan Forand, a natural resource specialist, during his presentation.

"(The plan will) contribute healthier water to the Chesapeake Bay and also to meet the mandates handed down by the state and the EPA," Forand said.

As part of the SWAP, the department surveyed 91 area neighborhoods in the watershed to determine the most effective means of making environmental improvements.

Nancy Roth, the watershed program manager for Versar, a county consultant based in Columbia, had teams out in the field since January who returned with recommendations.

Roth added urban stormwater runoff was one of the main focuses of the survey.

"The field investigations focused on what are the sources of the problems out there," Roth said. "(We asked) what are we seeing in terms of pollution sources and where do we see potential for restoration?"

Among the suggested steps were:

• Marking storm drains with notices that only rain water goes into them was recommended for 81 neighborhoods ;

• Encouraging the use of rain barrels, which collect precipitation from rooftops, was recommended for 64 neighborhoods;

• Landscaping with native plants was recommended for 58 neighborhoods;

• Adding trees between the sidewalk and road was recommended for 51 neighborhoods;

• Street sweeping was recommended for 41 neighborhoods.

Roth said her group continues to compile information and will present it to the county and community groups like Friends of the Patapsco Valley and Heritage Greenway.

"We as consultants are going to finish our project, but the county's here for the long haul," Roth said. "(The information) is going to be rolled into the county's goals and what they're doing to meet Chesapeake Bay pollutant reduction goals."

Betsy McMillion, executive director of Friends of the Patapsco Valley and Heritage Greenway, left the meeting encouraged.

"Baltimore County is probably the leader in the whole area of moving out and really aggressively going after and trying to correct problems in the watershed," said McMillion, who noted she also works with Howard and Anne Arundel counties and the state.

Most people want to keep the environment healthy, McMillion said, but just don't have information available to them.

"A lot of people are busy now and they don't really understand watersheds," McMillion said.

"A lot of people still think that everything that's going down the storm drains gets treated when it goes right smack into the closest stream, then it goes into the Patapsco River and then it goes into the Chesapeake Bay."

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