How rain turns into stormwater and the impact that stormwater has on our waterways is on the mind of local, state, and federal agencies as they struggle to meet EPA requirements to clean up the streams and rivers flowing to the Chesapeake Bay.

The Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay has been working on several projects in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Washington, DC, and Virginia that engage homeowners and communities in simple, effective practices they can do at home to reduce stormwater pollution. Now thanks to a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the Alliance, together with the Chesapeake Stormwater Network,University of Maryland Sea Grant ExtensionVirginia Tech, and Wetlands Watch are gathering lessons learned from other residential stormwater efforts as well and building a network for future communication.

Together we hope to offer a model program for success called Chesapeake RiverWise Communities. This comprehensive program for residential-scale stormwater reduction will offer homeowners, localities, and watershed groups the guidance and tools they need to implement and measure the benefits of stormwater best management practices in their communities.[imageframe link=”/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/rain-garden-250×187.jpg” ] Rain garden installed through RiverSmart Homes program in District Ward 3Over the last decade numerous groups have been looking for innovative ways to help reduce stormwater pollution.  Rain gardens, rainscapes, bioretention, green roofs, conservation landscaping, nutrient management for lawns, and porous pavements have all become far more commonplace but not yet routine parts of residential properties.  Finding solutions for meeting today’s  regulatory requirements and overcoming water quality problems related to stormwater will need the combined effort of governments, nonprofit organizations, and the private sector. In addition, reducing stormwater pollution will not only require improvements on public roads and buildings but also the combined efforts of tens of thousands of typical homeowners. Finding a way to engage homeowners in pollution reduction efforts can be challenging to say the least.[imageframe link=”/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/summit-300×199.jpg” ] “A Collaborative Summit: Protecting Water Quality through Actions on Urban-Suburban Properties” hsted in Williamsburg, VA in February 2013On February 13-14, 2013, the Alliance and its partners hosted “A Collaborative Summit: Protecting Water Quality through Actions on Urban-Suburban Properties” in Williamsburg, VA.  Over 200 people representing non-profits, local, state and federal agencies, landscape and nursery businesses and concerned citizens gathered to share resources and successes in stormwater management on residential properties.  Through an open discussion forum, participants shared their insights on key topics such as reaching new audiences, long-term goals, funding incentives, developing technical guidance, innovative stormwater practices, and building new partnerships.  We also discussed how these efforts relate to the Bay TMD and tracking and monitoring its progress.

The audience was inspired by programs that already exist to engage homeowners in actions that provide food and habitat for wildlife, create beauty, invoke a sense of place, and protect water quality at the same time. Inspiration led to creative thinking and idea sharing as the summit participants divided themselves into one of three groups: Regulations, Funding, and Accountability; Education, Training, and Outreach; and Installation, Design, and Maintenance to participate in an innovative conversation and listening process known as “Circle Conversations”.

“The power of the Conversation Circle comes from the sharing of ideas and thinking together in an environment that nurtures innovation, curiosity, and exploration. In the circle of conversation the questions are often more important than the answers. Circles naturally slow people down, allow people to focus, create equality, and connect.” —Matthew Rotche

These conversations provided a unique opportunity for people working in disciplines and communities, from government to business to really listen to each other’s perspectives.  Following each conversation, the facilitators led the audience through an interactive process that allowed people to ‘vote’ for the ‘top three’ issues discussed, shaping the agenda for the second day and making it truly reflective of the greatest needs of the participants.

Summit discussions were framed around the following vision:

“We envision 2030 as a time when  we’ve  met our collective goal of clean waters, healthy, vibrant habitat, wildlife, and economies in Virginia and the Bay Region because of a large, widespread increase in actions on individual urban-suburban properties.”

The second day involved working sessions on tracking and implementing residential stormwater management practices, education, social marketing, and changing behaviors, contractor training programs, communication and networks, partnerships, monitoring restoration activities, and funding strategies for stormwater runoff reductions, pollution prevention, and watershed restoration.[one_half background_position=”center center” ][imageframe link=”/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/IMG_0946-600×448.jpg” ] Storm water curb cuts allow water to infiltrate into planted roadside depressions instead of flowing into the sewer system. Summit participants generated  some new innovative approaches, identified resources needed, and built connections and relationships with each other that will create a network of experts who can share ideas in the future. Participants left the Summit with a sense of true collaboration and inspired to remain active in protecting water quality through stormwater management.

The Alliance will continue to work with this network to gain additional input as development of the Chesapeake RiverWise Communities program continues and will conduct focused workshops to address issues raised at the summit. We will also host a Stormwater Professionals Retreat in April.

Through this effort we hope to challenge the trend toward more impervious area and landscaping that relies on expansive turf lawns. By building stormwater control functions into beautiful low maintenance landscape designs and increasing our capacity to offer sound technical assistance and incentives to homeowners, we can build a “new normal” for our yards that restores and protects our environment for generations to come.

No one organization can do it alone. The Alliance is committed to strong partnerships committed to public education and outreach. Building a stewardship ethic among individual homeowners, businesses, and communities will result in healthier rivers and streams and increasingly beautiful and RiverWise communities.