The Prince George's County Council is once again taking up the issue of stormwater management, after voting to table needed legislation in the fall. (The county is currently out of compliance with state law and has been for over a year.)
Stormwater is the polluted runoff that comes from roofs, roads, and parking lots when it rains, carrying trash, debris, and pollutants into storm drains that empty directly into the Anacostia River. Polluted stormwater runoff flows into the Anacostia from parking lots and other impervious surfaces in developed areas because current county law does not require adequate stormwater management. These insufficient stormwater management requirements mean that developers get to build projects without properly accounting for the stormwater runoff and water pollution generated by their projects. If sewage treatment plants, factories, and other polluters have to clean up their pollution, why do we let developers get away with water pollution that kills our streams and floods our communities? Remember, existing development has caused existing problems.
County Executive Baker has proposed a stormwater bill, CB-15-2011, that is "too little, too late" to save the county's streams and reduce expensive damage to infrastructure, including washed out roads and bridges, broken sanitary sewer pipes, and trashed park lands. Maryland DNR has calculated that 88% of Prince George's County's streams are degraded, yet CB-15 would enact only the minimum redevelopment stormwater standard allowed by state law (.5 inch). The flooding, erosion, and stream degradation problems in the county require more than a minimum solution, and although CB-15 would raise the redevelopment stormwater standard to .75 inches in 5 years that is still too little, too late when water quality scientists have determined that at least 1 inch of stormwater capture is needed to protect the health of streams.
The redevelopment standard is vital because existing development has caused existing problems, and because the areas most prone to flooding in the county are located within our established communities inside the beltway. If we don't fix stormwater runoff problems as part of the redevelopment process, when it is most cost effective to do so, our older communities will continue to suffer disproportionate impacts from flooding and erosion. This is simply not fair.
Citizens pay for stormwater runoff twice - at home when their businesses and basements flood, and then again when taxpayer money is used to control flooding. Soon citizens will pay a third time for stormwater retrofits required under the federal Clean Water Act: the new stormwater permit the county will receive this year will require retrofitting existing impervious surface to a 1 inch stormwater treatment standard. This means if CB-15 passes as written, the county is guaranteeing future taxpayer money will be used to retrofit newly approved projects.
What this county needs is high quality redevelopment projects, and high quality projects include significant "green infrastructure" to manage stormwater: street trees, planter boxes, rain gardens, and green roofs are a few examples. These green stormwater management structures provide a visible amenity to communities, unlike traditional "pipe and pond" stormwater management, and multiple studies have shown 3.5 - 5% increases in property values when street trees and other green infrastructure are present in the community.
The developers are going around telling anyone that will listen that higher stormwater standards will "kill redevelopment" and "make transit-oriented development impossible." This is simply not true. What they are really saying is that they don't want to spend an extra dime to control their pollution and avoid impacts to local streams - or prevent flooding downstream of their new development. Why should Prince George's accept less than other regional jurisdictions?
Densely built Tyson's Corner will be rebuilt to a 1 inch stormwater management standard. Older, urban Philadelphia is being redeveloped at a 1 inch stormwater management standard. The highly urbanized District of Columbia is going to be implementing a 1.2" redevelopment stormwater standard. New federal buildings are required by law to manage 1.7" of stormwater. Montgomery County, the other Maryland portion of the Anacostia River watershed, has implemented a 2.6" redevelopment stormwater standard using green infrastructure to the maximum extent practicable - this is the "channel protection volume" and captures 100% of the average annual rainstrom. (And by the way, many of the same developers saying stormwater will break the bank in Prince George's agreed to the very high Montgomery County standard.)
There are a couple of ways to refute the developer's argument that stormwater standards will kill redevelopment:
1) Where are all the redevelopment projects they are building inside the beltway now?
2) The county has had regionally low environmental standards for decades and it hasn't helped to attract redevelopment.
The developers are using scare tactics on the community when they say that projects that don't exist will be "killed" by redevelopment.
Contact members of the Transportation, Housing, and Environment (THE) committee and ask them to amend CB-15 at the June 9 THE meeting. The meeting will be held at 10am in Room 2027 of the County Administration Building. Ask them for a 1" redevelopment stormwater management standard to alleviate flooding in our communities, protect county infrastructure, and save taxpayer money on expensive after the fact fixes and retrofits.
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