Big turnout at Cambrige workshop dealing with water issues

Residents urged to attend March 31 town hall with Rep. Andy Harris

CAMBRIDGE — Cambridge residents eager to help cut pollution in the Chesapeake Bay and solve water-related problems in their own yards packed into a meeting organized by the Cambridge Clean Water Advisory Committee at a time when a proposed federal budget would eliminate funding to clean up the Bay.

The Residential Water Quality Workshop, held at the Dorchester County Public Library March 22, aimed to explain ways to reduce the large amount of pollution-laden water that runs off roofs and yards, then into local waterways and the Bay.

The meeting also kicked off the Cambridge Residential Stewardship Initiative, a program to give five private property owners in the city free expert advice and construction to resolve water issues they experience, such as flooding, standing water and storm water management. The five will be chosen and notified by April 7.

“This is a pilot program in its first year,” Hilary Gibson, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Eastern Shore Grassroots specialist, told workshop participants, “We’re hoping to get funding to do more next year.”

Money for the projects will come from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, an organization created by Congress in 1984 to make grants and support conservation efforts throughout the United States. They will be administered by the Nanticoke Watershed Alliance, according to documents made available at the workshop.

The Nanticoke Alliance is one of six entities that form the Cambridge Clean Water Advisory Committee. The others are: The City of Cambridge, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Dorchester Citizens for Planned Growth, Midshore River Conservancy and University of Maryland Sea Grant Extension.

Residents who attended the meeting received complimentary rain barrels, applications for the Stewardship Initiative and detailed information on ways to capture and use rain water before it can flow off their property, carrying pollution from roof shingles and roads into local waterways and the Bay. Attendance was required as a first step to applying for the Stewardship Initiative.

In addition to informing residents, the workshop aimed to help the Cambridge Clean Water Advisory Committee better understand “City residents’ knowledge and attitudes about the environment and ways that the Committee can help make local waters clean and healthy,” according to a survey handed out at the meeting.

The local action comes at a time when the new administration in Washington has proposed a federal budget that would slash the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget by more than a third and eliminate all $73 million dollars that go to fund the Chesapeake Bay Program. The program, which funnels money to Maryland and five other states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, as well as the District of Columbia and various nonprofit groups, is the largest ever project to clean up a body of water in the United States.

Asked by a workshop participant about the lack of funding for the Bay in President Donald Trump’s draft budget. Alan Girard, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Eastern Shore director, urged Cambridge residents to attend a Town Hall meeting hosted by Representative Andy Harris (Republican-MD) on March 31, at Chesapeake College in Wye Mills.

People should “speak out for the Bay,” he said, adding that he thought “that will influence the outcome.”

Mr. Girard noted: “Congressman Harris is on the Appropriations Committee in the House. He’s in a powerful spot to say where the money goes.”

The latest State of the Bay report, published by the Foundation last month, gives the Bay a C-, or 34 out of a possible 70. The grade has risen from 31 in 2010, and 23 in 1983. But, despite more than 30 years of work since the Chesapeake Bay Program began, the waterway’s condition remains “fragile,” the Foundation commented on its website.

“I think we’ve turned a corner, that’s no accident,” Mr. Girard told the meeting. Agriculture continued to be the main cause of the pollution, followed by wastewater and storm water run-off. But while the first two were declining, “Storm water is still going in the wrong direction. There’s more effort that’s needed there.”

The Residential Stewardship Initiative seeks to speed up “the adoption of green infrastructure projects on residential property in Cambridge,” material distributed at the workshop said. It also wants “to engage members of the community in efforts to reduce the impact of flooding and storm water run-off. improve water quality of our rivers and streams, and increase biodiversity.”

Choptank Riverkeeper Matt Pluta and Jen DinDinger, Watershed Restoration specialist with the University of Maryland Sea Grant Extension, outlined various ways Cambridge residents could reduce water running off their property. “Slow it, spread it, sink it,” should be the goal, Mr. Pluta said.

On a single house, 10 percent to 20 percent of the water hitting the roof runs off the property. “The more development, the more run-off we get.” Some practices which minimize run-off include: Installing rain barrels under downspouts and building rain gardens — “a depressed garden” — filled with native plants to absorb water.

As for the plants, “The root systems are really the key when you add plants to an area,” Ms. Dindinger said, “We want something that’s really going to reach down into the soil.” Grass is only this much better than pavement,” she commented, holding her fingers about six inches apart. Replacing turf grass with native plants “can absorb a lot of water.”

Matching “the right plant with the right place” as regards the type of soil a plant needs is another key to success.

Other suggestions included installing rain chains to slow the progress of water off a roof, using permeable pavers or permeable asphalt in driveways and building rock-filled trenches.

More ideas included conservation landscaping, landscaped terraces to stop erosion by slowing down water so it could seep into the ground more easily and creating “bioswales.” This last measure involves adding plants along the edges of drainage ditches to absorb water and building small dams to slow down the flow of water.

Working demonstrations of a rain garden and rain barrel can be seen at Sailwinds Park, next to the playground area, one participant reminded the gathering.

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