Investing In Clean Rivers For A Healthy Chesapeake Bay: New Report

Susquehanna River | © Jayme Frye

Cities and counties in the Bay states are behind schedule implementing permit controls to reduce stormwater runoff | © Jayme Frye

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) has released a new report, “Polluted Runoff: How Investing in Runoff Pollution Control Systems Improves the Chesapeake Bay Region’s Ecology, Economy and Health.”

Storm event runoff pollutes thousands of miles of rivers across the nation and within the Chesapeake Bay drainage. A major cause is land use—hard surfaces such as roads and rooftops that don’t allow stormwater to soak into the ground where pollutants can be absorbed and filtered. Instead, hard surfaces collect pollutants such as oil and grease. Then, during rains, the pollutants are washed to stormdrains, pipes and eventually our streams that we rely upon for drinking, recreation and our livelihoods.

CBF relays that development in the Bay basin creates an additional 10,000 acres of hard surfaces each year, in turn creating a challenge for local governments that are responsible for land use control to prevent more miles of impaired rivers and restore those already impacted by stormwater pollution.

Under the Clean Water Act, localities have one tool—a permit system to address polluted runoff from urbanized land. Unfortunately, CBF reports, cities and counties in the Bay states are woefully behind schedule implementing permit controls or have weak permits. In addition, the permit systems don’t always capture the largest polluters —those controlling the largest parcels of hard surface area.

The new report by CBF adds to the growing evidence that utilizing the system of urban permits to control runoff can be a wise investment for a community in the Bay basin or anywhere urban growth impacts clean water, especially when the permit promotes use of green infrastructure practices that replicate the natural environment to maximize stormwater infiltration, retention and evapotranspiration. 

Communities that control runoff not only get a return on their investment (CBF points to research by the University of Maryland’s Environmental Finance Center) but also reap a multitude of benefits from beautified urban centers to improved public health.