Monday, April 18, 2016

Stormwater Management at the University of Maryland

**This blog is part of a sustainability series written by student members of the BSOS Sustainability Task Force. To find out more about the task force, click here.**

Written by: Jane Lyons

If you live on campus, rainboots are a necessity.

When it rains at the University of Maryland, plazas become ponds, stairs become waterfalls, and sidewalk puddles are unavoidable. For students, it is obvious that UMD needs to take another look at its stormwater management practices. This is especially important because stormwater runoff is dangerous for local and regional waters.

What is stormwater runoff?
Stormwater runoff happens when rain or snow flows over the land surface instead of being absorbed by the ground. What we should do is implement more surfaces like this aborbing pavment (check out the link Runoff is increased when there are surfaces like roads, sidewalks, or parking lots. Runoff picks up pollutants that are found on paved surfaces such as sediment, nitrogen, phosphorus, bacteria, oil and grease, trash, pesticides, and metals. A large volume of runoff can also result in flooding and erosion. Like all urban areas, College Park has large amounts of impervious surfaces allowing pollutants to enter the watershed. According to the Center for Watershed Protection, “stormwater runoff is the number one cause of stream impairment in urban areas”.

As you may know, College Park is a part of the 14 mile watershed area that includes Paint Branch stream and North Branch, which flows into the Anacostia River (one of the most polluted rivers in the country), Potomac River, and the Chesapeake Bay. Runoff from campus has the potential to affect the entire 64,299 square mile basin of the Chesapeake Bay. To keep our runoff from having a negative effect, UMD must enact sustainable stormwater management practices.
water umd.jpg

What have we done?
The state and federal government have realized the importance of good stormwater management. They have issued regulations aimed towards making our water more sustainable. This includes big regulations like the Clean Water Act of 1972. However, because most of the University’s infrastructure pre-dates the Act, the University has had to address its lack of formal stormwater management system. The established infrastructure was an “end-of-pipe” approach -- a last ditch filtration effort that is typically at the “end of the pipes” -- and to this day hasn’t changed. Many of these systems are now faltering under the duress of year’s worth of stormwater. The result of solely relying on this approach leads to low oxygen levels in the deeper ends of stormwater ponds, Low oxygen levels can result in aquatic life dying, such as the drop in oyster population in the Chesapeake Bay.

In 1988, the University began holding its first of two National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits that regulate and prohibit certain types of pollutants from entering stormwater. The 2012 permit renewal was extended to include “the discharge of stormwater runoff from land, pavement, building rooftops and construction sites on campus”, as well as issued stricter copper discharge standards. UMD can now either reduce its copper discharge concentrations or eliminate all mechanical equipment discharges to the storm sewer system by 2018.

In 2007, UMD made strides and adopted the Stormwater Management Act, which “significantly increased the requirements for new development projects”. Thus leading to UMD promoting Environmental Site Design, which includes techniques such as:  rain gardens, bioretention, green roofs, permeable paving, and cisterns.

What are we doing now?
Of course, there is still more to do. Students have realized that stormwater management is an issue and have taken action into their own hands. The Local Team for Maryland Sustainability Engineering (MDSE) is designing a project for Wellness Way that would utilize stormwater management best practices. There is currently a concrete channel in place to deal with stormwater runoff from a large area of north campus.
Street View - Concrete Channel.png
The MDSE project will replace the concrete channel with a retrofitted vegetated swale, or “bioswale”. Added vegetation will reduce runoff speed to allow for groundwater recharge and treatment before draining into Campus Creek. The project, sponsored by the University Sustainability Fund, is scheduled to be implemented late this summer.
Also Sustainability Engineers at the University are building a stormwater off retention cell. This will be located at parking low XX1. For more information click on the following link.

Other on-campus projects include:
  • Eppley’s Sphagnum moss swimming pool water treatment system,
  • Paint Branch restoration projects,
  • Green roof on Cumberland Hall,
  • Campus’ first stormwater irrigation system on Washington Quad,
  • Knight Hall cistern, and
  • Various Low Impact Development (LID) projects around campus.

What can we do in the future?
The May 2014 Sustainable Water Use and Watershed Report by the University Sustainability Council outlines eight recommendations for future stormwater management. This council is a leader in sustainability practices at UMD. The list below outlines the recommendations provided by the council.

  1. Develop a Stormwater Master Plan for ESD and Rainwater Harvesting
  2. Stay on top of NPDES/MS4 Permit Requirements
  3. Develop Partnership Memorandum of Agreements to Facilitate Regional Stormwater Planning and Campus Projects
  4. Revise Campus Design Standards - Include Standardized ESD and Rainwater Harvesting Details and Practices
  5. Continue Stormwater Banking for Capital Projects Using ESD
  6. Create Internal Funding Mechanism(s) for MS4 Compliance and ESD Banking, Pursue Outside Funding Options.
  7. Expand Inspection and Maintenance of Stormwater Facilities
  8. Restore Campus Creek by 2020

For more information on these recommendations and UMD’s stormwater management practices, please refer to the Sustainability Water Use and Watershed Report at