Flying Fish

Do April Showers Bring May Flowers? A Perspective on Impervious Surfaces
by Nicole Carlozo -- May 9th, 2013

After months and months of GIS and office work, I recently had two opportunities to play in the dirt with our Restoration Division. You guessed it – I planted some trees.

The experience caused some reflection as I realized (shovel in hand) that I had never actually planted a tree. A 26 year-old Coastal Manager with an MEM in Coastal Management and a BA in Biology – and the extent of my field work had been solely aquatic (there was that one vegetation survey, but let’s just say the experience isn’t something I ever hope to repeat!).

And so there I was, holding a boy-scout sized shovel, doing my best to dig deep and wondering what the survival rate would be this time next year. Perhaps the work was a little hard on my back, but it was definitely rewarding.

Stream Restoration

Project # 1 took place at Cabin Branch Stream adjacent to the Annapolis Mall. DNR staff joined Underwood and Associates in the planting of +400 trees along a previously degraded stream. Although I didn’t see the stream’s initial conditions, I did stand near the culvert which feeds the newly restored site. Below the culvert, things looked promising. Above it was another story – impervious surfaces as far as I could see. I looked up, trying to imagine the stream’s headwaters, buried under all the cement and asphalt.

The kicker? I lived just miles from the stream site. Yup – I was part of the problem.

Combating Impervious Surfaces

There has been much heat in the media recently about Maryland’s stormwater control fees. While the public has taken to calling these fees the “rain tax,” the state is certainly not taxing the weather. Ten counties and Baltimore City have been mandated by the state to impose fees for surfaces that can’t absorb rainwater (like roofs, parking lots, and driveways). Each county is responsible for setting an annual fee and these taxes will be used to improve stormwater runoff systems that limit the levels of nitrogen, phosphorus, sediment, and other pollutants entering Chesapeake Bay waterways.

To clean up the Chesapeake Bay, every person needs to be part of the solution because every person is part of the problem (whether we want to admit it or not). If I’m unwilling or unable to give up my Annapolis lifestyle, surrounded by driveways, condos, and shopping centers, then perhaps this tax is my way of becoming part of the solution. It certainly may help address the “free rider” problem in our watershed. If a farmer is responsible for reducing nutrient loads from his or her land, then shouldn’t others take responsibility as well?

Mitigation

Taking responsibility isn’t solely about money, however. In fact, the stormwater tax can be lowered if we take action on our own lands. Rain barrels, rain gardens, and tree planting are just a few activities that can reduce runoff and stormwater fees simultaneously. If there is less stormwater pollution, then fewer funds are needed to control that stormwater.

And that brings me to Project # 2, where DNR staff and some volunteers planted and tubed ~ 1,500 seedlings on a nearby horse farm. Unfortunately, severe weather and the deer population had reduced the seedling population from last year’s planting. We were there to restore what had been lost. Our day was spent trudging up and down grassy hills while a herd of horses watched in amusement. More then once I thought back to my grueling chigger experience courtesy of GIS Field Skills, but I pushed on and took care not to step on any woody debris. The work was methodical, but every project is a small part of the solution.

Dig a hole, plant a tree, drive a stake, set a tube, dig, plant, drive, tube….Every little bit helps.

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