WV Elected Officials Investigate Solutions for Stormwater Flooding

The role of a local elected official in the Chesapeake watershed is a big one. Not only must they address the needs of their constituents, they also direct the day-to-day operations of their community, including street and sewer maintenance, overseeing parks and recreation, supporting emergency services, and much more. On top of that, they also should be good environmental stewards. Decisions made by a local official impact not only the health and vitality of their community, but also their local waterways and the greater Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Berkeley Springs State Park lies in the heart of downtown and is known for its historic mineral spa and open pools of mineral springs runoff.

Members of the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Local Government Advisory Committee (LGAC) understand this connection. These local elected officials have been appointed by their Governor (or District of Columbia Mayor) to share the views and insights of local leaders with state and federal decision-makers. LGAC’s mission is to enhance the flow of information about the health and restoration of the watershed amongst local governments and to share the views and insights of local elected officials with state and federal decision-makers. One way they do this is through peer to peer learning opportunities.

These exchanges, titled the Wandering Waterways series, provide unique, hands-on opportunities for local elected officials to learn about regional conservation efforts and empower them to take on environmental challenges within their own communities. Hosted by LGAC members, the events foster peer to peer connections and provide resources for implementation of environmental solutions.

Wandering West Virginia’s Waterways

On June 30th, the LGAC-hosted Wandering West Virginia’s Waterways tour took 18 local elected officials, representing 12 municipalities from across the state of West Virginia to Berkeley Springs to tour newly-added stormwater infrastructure projects throughout the Town of Bath (Berkeley Springs), behind the Widmyer Elementary School, and at the Greenway Cemetery. These projects address recent severe stormwater runoff, flooding, and erosion issues.

“Berkeley County is a rapidly growing area so stormwater management is critically important to the development of the region,” said James Barnhart, Commission Member of the Berkeley County Commission, LGAC member, and host of the tour.

Rebecca MacLeod of the Town of Bath Streetscape Committee and the Warm Springs Watershed Association leads a walking tour of downtown Berkeley Springs to showcase the recently installed rain gardens, planter boxes, and permeable pavers.

Led by Rebecca MacLeod, Town of Bath Council Member and vice president of the Warm Springs Watershed Association (WSWA) Board of Directors, the tour began by visiting the Town of Bath Streetscape. Built on a floodplain, downtown would often become inundated during periods of heavy rainfall and sidewalks were hazardous during icy winters. In 2012, a major flooding event submerged much of the area, flooding basements and businesses, and covering streets and storefronts in mud and debris. To divert stormwater and mitigate flooding, the WSWA established a green stormwater control system consisting of rain gardens, permeable pavers, planter boxes, a bioswale, and a tree trench. Now runoff from severe storms is collected by the rain gardens on Congress Street, and soaked up by the permeable pavers and tree trench on Washington Street.

Next, elected officials explored the lush wetlands area behind Widmyer Elementary School. The elementary school was constructed on the floodplain of Warm Springs Run, resulting in the removal of wetlands at the south end of the area. Without the wetlands to manage drainage, stormwater runoff from the surrounding hilly terrain increased the frequency and severity of flooding at the elementary school and the Berkeley Springs High School located downstream. In 2009, the Eastern Panhandle Conservation Agency, in partnership with the Morgan County School Board and WSWA, reestablished the wetlands, providing an outdoor learning area for students.

Elected officials explore the re-established wetlands and outdoor learning area behind Widmyer elementary school.

The last stop of the tour was the hilly, 29-acre section of Greenway Cemetery located west of Johnson Mill Road. The Cemetery’s incredibly steep slope causes stormwater “so severe that on one occasion a recently buried coffin was washed out of the grave and transported to a neighboring lawn,” said Kate Lehman, president of the WSWA. “While this was a one time event, erosion has long wreaked havoc throughout the area, especially on the three roads in this section of the cemetery.”

A bioswale recently installed in the Town of Bath to to control stormwater flooding.

In 2012 and 2015, the WSWA installed green infrastructure Best Management Practices (BMPs) to reduce stormwater runoff into the nearby Warm Springs Run. Diverters, made of recycled conveyor belts, channel runoff into French drains and grassy bioswales lining the cemetery’s northernmost road to reduce erosion on road surface. A rain garden installed at the base of the cemetery collects and filters rainwater rushing down the hill, diminishing flooding and providing food and habitat for wildlife.

After learning about the excellent stormwater Best Management Practices and green infrastructure solutions implemented throughout Berkeley Springs, many attendees left inspired to address similar barriers within their communities. After the tour, attendee Mona Becker, Mayor of Westminster, Maryland, expressed “I [was] familiar with Berkeley Spring’s Streetscapes, but I wanted to learn a little bit more about how they were implemented and where they got the funding from, because I’d love to see something like that take place in Westminster.”

The Town of Bath Streetscape tour concluded with a stop at Berkeley Springs’ historic railway depot to view the adjacent herb and flower garden and remediation plans for the nearby North Berkeley Rail Trail.

Next on the Wandering Waterways Series

Since its pilot in 2019, the Wandering Waterways series has brought elected officials together in Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania to learn about topics including green infrastructure, innovative agricultural practices, clean water initiatives, and solutions to localized flooding. By bringing Wandering Waterways to Delaware in 2022 and West Virginia in 2023, the Local Government Initiative team aims to ensure equal opportunities for education and engagement watershed-wide.

This fall, Wandering Waterways will be in New York partnering with the Upper Susquehanna Coalition, Southern Tier Central, and Southern Tier 8 to discuss how small solutions for clean water can lead to big results for communities with New York officials at Binghamton University as a part of the 2023 Upper Susquehanna Watershed Forum.

If you are interested in learning more about the Wandering Waterways Series, please email at LGAC@AlliancefortheBay.org.