Montgomery paves way in implementing region’s strictest clean-water laws

April 27, 2011

Montgomery County must retrofit more than 4,100 acres of paved surfaces over the next four years. Storm water ponds will be upgraded, and stream banks will be rehabilitated. The county must also meet federal guidelines to remove trash, bacteria and other pollutants to make the county’s waterways clean enough to fish and swim in.

The regulations are part of the strictest stormwater permit under the U.S. Clean Water Act, and Montgomery County is the first jurisdiction in the region to apply it.

“This permit is the right thing to do, but it is going to be very difficult unless we literally have armies of citizens out there helping us,” said Bob Hoyt, director of the county’s Department of Environmental Protection.

To get residents on board, Montgomery County will help pay the bill for residents to landscape their properties, add rain barrels to their gutters and plant trees, among other programs.

Hoyt said that many residents do not know about water quality. The county is working on incentive and education programs to explain how too much fertilizer on your yard or not picking up pet waste is bad for the water, he said. Maps that are already online inform residents which watershed they live in.

“In the end, what we are talking about is really changing behaviors and getting everybody to see what they do has an impact on their waterways and streams, all the way to the Chesapeake Bay,” Hoyt said.

Even though the storm water permit is the most stringent in the area, some water-quality advocates stress more can be done.

Montgomery is the furthest ahead” when it comes to cleaning up the Anacostia watershed, said Brent Bolin, advocacy director at the Anacostia Watershed Society. But the society is concerned about identifying and measuring the pollutants in the county’s waters that are not part of the permit, he said.

The county needs to learn marketing skills, said Seth Goldman, president of Bethesda-based Honest Tea. “They are good at organizing . . . but they are not good at helping people mobilize,” he said.

So Goldman stepped in. He created Bethesda Green, a business-based organization that aims to create a more sustainable community. When his organization promoted the county’s push of “e-cycling,” or recycling of old computers and electronics, the numbers rose from 20,000 pounds of materials recycled per year to 180,000 pounds.

Bicycles were bought for the business’s staff as a bonus, and he challenged other Bethesda businesses to do the same. Local restaurants in the group no longer sell their used grease to a dog food company but to a biodiesel firm. Using a grant from Coca-Cola, Bethesda Green raised money to distribute recycling bins throughout town. The group used donated office space to start a green business incubator that has 11 start-up businesses in it.

Silver Spring and Poolesville want to start their own versions of the group.

“You don’t need to sell people on it. You just need to organize,” he said. “Ultimately, that is what sustainability is, a lot of small steps.”

Goldman wants to tackle commercial recycling, pervious sidewalks and push for more sustainable snow removal.

Montgomery County also has several energy-efficient projects in the works, thanks to $7.6 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grants.

Single-family homeowners, multi-family and commercial-building owners can apply for rebates if they have made certain energy-efficient upgrades to their properties. County buildings will use more renewable energy and focus on energy conservation. A study to better address energy use in multi-family and commercial buildings and green workforce development also are funded through the grant money.

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