Northeast Branch flooded after a heavy rain event
The biggest problem facing the Anacostia River today is unchecked stormwater runoff. Over the years, AWS has advocated for increased government regulation of stormwater management.
Maryland passed a Stormwater Management Act in 2007, and though the 2010 General Assembly weakened the bill as a result of developer lobbying, it set an important new direction by mandating use of LID (low impact development), called ESD (environmental site design) in the law, to manage stormwater runoff. Each jurisdiction with stormwater authority had to pass a local ordinance implementing the state law.
In 2012, we helped support legislation later signed into law that required stormwater authority jurisdictions to collect funds allocated toward stormwater projects to reduce polluted runoff. During subsequent General Assembly sessions there were major threats to the integrity of the law that water quality advocates fought hard to successfully fend off. 2015 posed the biggest challenge to the 2012 law, but in the end groups on either side of the issue were able to come to a compromise where the state would no longer require each of the 10 jurisdictions to collect fees but rather give them flexibility in how they raise the funds needed to meet water quality standards. The new law also requires each jurisdiction to demonstrate funding has been identified and provide an annual progress report to the state and make it available to the public. Penalties for inadequate plans may be assessed.
In July 2010, after a long period of advocacy by AWS and its partners, Montgomery County enacted one of the strongest local stormwater ordinances in the nation. It requires that both new development and redevelopment projects manage the full Channel Protection Volume (2.6 inches of rain water) to guard against stream bank erosion and maintain water quality. ESD is the preferred technique in both contexts, though redevelopment projects have a number of points of flexibility to account for constrained sites. AWS continues to support improvements to implementing regulations and talk with citizens and authorities about best manangement practices.
Improved stormwater rules for Prince George’s County were issued in July 2011, after a long fought battle and more than a year after state law required the county to have new rules in place. This makes it one of the strongest stormwater ordinances in the state. However, 50% of the Anacostia watershed's land area is in Prince George’s County so it is extremely unfortunate that the county has the lowest redevelopment stormwater standard in the watershed. Prince George’s County requires only the state minimum of 0.5 inches of stormwater retention until going up to 0.75 inches in 2016 and then up to 1 inch in 2019. AWS and its allies had originally asked for 1 inch retention/treatment as the minimum needed to protect water quality, but it is still insufficient to address the severe erosion experienced in the county.
Most recently, we have continued to watch over implementation of policy measures while advocating for stronger regulations going forward and educating and informing residents about stromwater practices and available programs. There is great potential for improvement on stromwater issues in the county with rebate funds available for retrofit projects and an innovative public-private partnership announced in April 2015 between the county and Corvias Solutions called the Clean Water Partnership.
In 2008 the DC Council unanimously passed strong stormwater standards for the Anacostia Waterfront Development Zone (AWDZ). Unfortunately, the effective date of the AWDZ standards was made dependent on the Mayor issuing rules for their implementation. Though required by law to be done by September 2008, the rules were not issued until July 2013, after much pressure from the advocates. Transitions set in the rule meant that requirements for major land disturbing activities were not fully effective until January 2015 and those for major substantial improvement activities were not fully effective until July 2015. The 2011 DC MS4 permit contained a stormwater management standard (requiring 1.2 inches of stormwater on all development projects) partly because these rules were not issued at that time.
Major efforts to resolve combined sewer overflows (CSOs) in the Anacostia River are underway thanks to the continued and relentless pressure brought by many advocates. AWS and its partners took legal action in 1999 that resulted in a 2003 consent decree with DC Water requiring significant reductions in CSOs. DC Water continues to implement its Clean Rivers Project, also known as the Long-Term Control Plan, which is a multi-billion dollar infrastructure project that utilizes massive underground storage tunnels to contain wastewater until it can be treated at the Blue Plains facility and large-scale green infrastructure projects to let stormwater naturally infiltrate into the ground or otherwise be treated on site to lessen impacts on the combined sewer system during heavy rain events. Modifications to this plan were proposed by DC Water in 2015 that could potentially mean fewer tunnel sections and more green infrastructure in the Rock Creek and Potomac River sections. The 13.1 mile long Anacostia tunnel will be complete ahead of schedule with 81% of CSOs reduced in 2018 and 98% of CSOs reduced in 2022.