Last week, the Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), Chesapeake Bay Trust (the Trust), county delegates from District 15 and 16, and a representative from senator Ben Cardin’s office spent the morning touring water quality improvement projects in the county.
The projects toured are just 3 of 100 total projects that have been funded by The Clean Water Montgomery Grant Program.
“These projects represent what the Trust is all about,” says Suzanne Armstrong, the Trust’s Vice President for Development. “People taking action and ownership in their community.” Funded by DEP’s Water Quality Protection Fund and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and administered by the Trust, the grant program supports initiatives and projects which will improve water quality in Montgomery County’s local streams and waterways through public engagement, education, and on-the-ground restoration.
Funded since 2014, the program has awarded over $4.5 million, planted 1,455 trees, engaged 10,430 community members, and removed 36,123 sq ft of impervious surface.
“In the 70s and 80s, rainwater was something to hide and dispose of,” says Susy S. Altmann, the project’s landscape architect. But it’s 2023 and this project “[aims] to fix what we didn’t know in the 80s.”
Since the grant was received in 2017, the Interfaith Greenway Garden has treated 10,700 gallons of rainfall and removed pollutants from 76% of the water that flows over acres of roofed and paved surfaces onto congregation property and eventually into Cabin John Creek.
This rain garden is unique in that it addresses the runoff issues of both Beth Sholom Congregation and St. James Episcopal Church. Carefully engineered below the ground, this garden holds and slowly filters stormwater through gravel, native plant roots, and soil. In Altmann’s words: the plants clean the water through “chemical magic.”
“Some people think [the garden] looks untidy,” says Altmann. “But insects use the dry flowers and stalks of plants to nest over winter.” Gardens like these require a new mindset: understanding that they can still be maintained without looking perfectly neat. By leaving things more natural, this garden creates food and habitat for local wildlife and the path that winds through it provides an oasis of beauty for children, the congregants, and neighbors.
More than 100 years old, Bannockburn Community Clubhouse sits on the highest point in its neighborhood and is surrounded by 22 private homes. Homes that once received excessive runoff from the large building and parking lot on the club property. Before the project, homeowners’ backyards constantly flooded and an old road at the back of the property was excessively eroded.
For this project, the road was removed and replaced with a new “stream walk,” a walking path surrounded by native plants that support habitat, manage the flow of stormwater, and keep pollutants out of our waterways.
“Projects like this engage people,” says Ana Rasmussen, a member of the community board and the project lead. “[It brings] others that are equally committed and passionate together.”
Since completing the grant, Bannockburn has received no complaints from neighbors and the erosion has ceased where the old roadway once laid.
“As of this spring,” says Bradley Simpson, Nature Forward’s Restoration Manager, “we have met our goal of treating 100% of the runoff coming from impermeable surfaces on our property.”
Beginning with the creation of a stormwater management master plan for the property in 2015, Nature Forward has been awarded several Clean Water Montgomery grants for various projects on their Woodend Sanctuary property. Projects range from rain gardens, to ponds, to stream restorations. All of these projects work together to remove pollutants, improve watershed health, and enrich the biodiversity of the sanctuary.
“It’s a treatment train,” says Simpson. “It’s never just one project standing alone. It’s many projects working together before our water enters Rock Creek.”
The same can be said of many of the 100 projects that have been funded through the program thus far. Last year, grant reviewers saw the most applications ever submitted to the program. As long as program funding continues, grant administrators at the County and from the Chesapeake Bay Trust feel the sky is the limit. They are excited to see the creative projects and innovative ideas local nonprofits will be submitting in 2023.
For more information the Clean Water Montgomery Grant Program visit: Clean Water Montgomery – Chesapeake Bay Trust (cbtrust.org)