Infrastructure Innovation

The following first appeared in CBF's 2016 State of the Bay Report

Drainage-cartoon
The urban and suburban polluted runoff challenge is great, but many solutions reduce pollution and create good jobs. Art by Charles Hazard.

Don't Dump: Chesapeake Bay Drainage! When these words started showing up painted on storm drains in the early 1990s, it was easy to visualize the effects of oil and trash rushing directly down drain pipes to Bay tributaries. For many, those messages were the beginning of awareness that urban and suburban polluted runoff (stormwater) could hurt our beloved waterways. Much less obvious, though, is toxic dust and fluids from automobile brake pads, tailpipes, and engines; forgotten pet poop; or excess lawn fertilizer. These things can make us sick and destroy animal habitat. Rain flowing downhill across impervious (non-porous) surfaces like rooftops, parking lots, and roadways gathers speed carrying material to drain pipes that lead directly to our rivers, streams, and ultimately the Bay.

Contrast that scenario with the way rainwater fell on the Chesapeake's 64,000-square-mile watershed 400 years ago, when this land was 95 percent old-growth forest. Trees broke the fall of that rain. Water soaked into the soil below, which slowly filtered it as it moved underground to streams, creeks, rivers, and the Bay. We sometimes refer to that process as the Great Green Filter. We have developed much of our land in the intervening centuries, changing the Great Green Filter to the Gray Funnel in many cases. Today, runoff pollution from impervious surfaces continues to increase, while thanks to major efforts by municipalities and farmers, pollution from wastewater plants and agriculture is decreasing.

Restoring the Chesapeake's entire Great Green Filter is obviously not an option, but engineers, landscape architects, contractors, municipal officials, and private landowners are devoting genuinely creative thinking to rebuilding infrastructure that allows rainwater to filter through natural systems, while local and regional governments work out ways to finance the work. DC Water is an example of applying innovative solutions and financing to help address polluted runoff in Washington, D.C. While the challenge is great, many of these solutions create jobs. It's imperative that we find and implement these types of solutions if we want a healthy Chesapeake.

Chesapeake Bay Foundation

Issues in this Post

Runoff Pollution   State of the Bay  




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