OUR ENVIRONMENT

AOTB Drainage Solutions—an ongoing project

—David J. Delia, president, POA-AOTB

Caution: There’s a lot of stuff here, mostly because the subject itself is very complex. I don’t claim to understand all of its intricacies, but suffice it to say the truism that the “…neck bone’s connected to the ankle bone” applies here in full. So if you’re really interested in mitigating your own or AOTB’s drainage situation, read on. If not, not.

Ever since Margaret and I moved to our wonderful peninsula in 2003 we’ve experienced the wisdom and folly of those that came before us with respect to getting stormwater where it belongs. Environmentalists pretty much agree that stormwater should mostly drain back into our below-ground water table with as little as possible escaping, and bringing all sorts of unwanted pollutants with it, into our Chesapeake Bay. The best environmentalists are also realists and acknowledge that this goal is not always 100% attainable, but it should be the ultimate direction we take if we are to do our small part in maintaining the health of our bay.

For as long as folks have built houses to live in they’ve had to, by necessity, decrease their permeable land surface by constructing the dwellings themselves as well as all of suburban living’s support structures, such as garages, driveways, patios, and of course our access roads (1) —all of which have decreased the natural flow of stormwater downward. Building codes were not always what they are today, so many structures in AOTB were not built in optimal locations or adequately provided for proper drainage. AOTB has several houses, including our own, that date back to the turn of the century—the 20th century that is—and many before that. Many of our houses should never have been allowed to be built where they were at all because of elevation, slope, and percolation issues nobody thought to consider. Thus many of us are stuck in bogs of our own, or our preceding owners’, making. And just like our houses, every surrounding landscaping situation is different and requires somewhat customized solutions.

In addition to several smaller-scale attempts to fix AOTB’s chronic ponding problems over the previous decades, in 2012-13, a more comprehensive plan was begun (2). With County, State, and South River Federation support, your POA completed a major drainage project in 2014 that went a long way toward helping keep as much stormwater as possible within out peninsula’s subterranean footprint. That project, along Newport and Chestnut Avenues, comprised a living shoreline (3), bioretention cells (4), and copious native plantings (5). This project was accomplished by obtaining a half-million dollar grant and using about $75,000 of our community’s non-shoreline erosion control budget funds (6). That project’s essential plantings have literally just taken firm root and the system is only now beginning to have its full effect felt. This project, while doing a lot, can never be our community’s total drainage solution.

Knowing that we still had lots more to do, we then engaged with our County’s Southern District division of our Department of Public Works (DPW) in early 2019 (7) to restore, repair, and rehabilitate our roadside drainage swales, underground culverts, and outflow pipes that many of our predecessor property owners either filled in or otherwise rendered inoperable.

Since 2017, we have met with and developed a plan working with DPW to do what they can along the mostly north/south roads they are responsible for to channel the stormwater runoff away from our houses. It has been a street-by-street, even house-by-house effort accomplished over far too long a period with far fewer county employees than needed. These repairs have helped a lot but will not, and unfortunately cannot, ever completely address all of our remaining problems. To that end, after the county does what it can do, your POA will be commissioning a professional and detailed drainage study of our peninsula to see what our POA, as well as our individual property owners can do in our respective areas of responsibility. Improved swales (8) and pipes along the mostly east/west streets that are the POA’s responsibility can help redirect additional water from problem areas. However, we must all be aware that POA or County funds cannot by law be used to solve individual property owners’ problems that exist within the boundaries of their private lands.

As a result of individual, neighborhood, and county efforts many things have already gotten better, but now we must deal with everything else, and the effects of climate change. Only two years ago AOTB experienced almost 68 inches of rain when our average norm had been only about 45 inches. Rising sea levels will only exacerbate our drainage issues to the point where we’ll barely be treading water. So in addition to these past, current, and projected future community and county projects, we are beginning a new initiative that will require all of our neighbors’ participation if is to succeed.

We’ve fixed and will be fixing many swales; both the county and the POA will be doing further work; but swales, while allowing for some percolating, mostly redirect stormwater elsewhere—not the optimal solution. To help those who may not be benefitting as much from such redirection, we’ll need better, downward solutions such as bio-retention cells, rain gardens (9), and more widespread and intelligent use of native plantings.

This multi-homeowner, parallel-effort initiative will seek to leverage the experiences of our entire community in dealing with our remaining problems as related below:

  1. One of our newer neighbors along Cohasset, Steve Sapirie, has had to deal with many of the above issues and is still trying his best to do what he can for his home and our environment by working with private contractors, our POA, and our county. A while back, Steve and I discussed his situation. After I briefed him on AOTB’s drainage history, individual homeowner responsibilities, and kicked around potential courses of action, I asked him to write a report on his ongoing efforts in detail in the hope that some of those experiences might be applicable to others. It follows as the first of what we hope will become a multi-contribution appendix.
  2. Another neighbor, Brigid Haragan, also along Cohasset, has worked on her drainage issues by employing her landscaper’s skills to mitigate her particular situation.
  3. As I mentioned, in 2003 Margaret and I moved into our personal swamp along Walnut—a lovely waterfront property with an original structure dating back to 1904/5—that is only about nine feet above sea level. At the bottom of a gradual incline, our “back yard” is chronically inundated by stormwater runoff from the higher elevations (about 12 feet) along Narragansett Avenue. With the assistance of our landscapers we installed three catch basins on our property with connecting underground pipes and improved the slope of our adjacent gravel road to, quite literally, drain the swamp. Since then we have worked with the county to cut down on the Narragansett water flow by improving the county pipes and catch basins nearby. I even developed a unique method to keep leaves off our catch basin grates. It’s all worked out marvelously.

Others undoubtedly have similar experiences they could share; I’ve personally seen many neighbors doing what they can to help themselves.

  1. Just take a walk around the neighborhood and see for yourselves what folks like Kathy McLean along Rockway at Myrtle have done. She has modified her front yard to include additional plantings and installed a rain garden to alleviate her situation.
  2. New neighbors along Newport at Redwood, who recently completed construction on their home, also worked to alleviate their Redwood roadside drainage issues and improved their swales with noticeably beneficial effect.
  3. See also what the county and the nearby neighbors together did along Redwood and Rockway to help themselves.
  4. Your POA, through our community landscapers, has done much to improve drainage conditions along our eight nature paths (10), simply by clearing brush and leaves and filling in some low spots without major construction effort.
  5. Look into the effects that rain gardens with proper plantings have had on our community’s portal entrance as well as individual homeowners like Andy Grannell and Renee Reiser’s home along Narragansett at Redwood, and many more. Literally, every drop counts.
  6. And of course not all landscapers, plumbers, or home builders are trained in, or are equally adept at, creating the best drainage solutions. That’s one reason for this Forum, to share our positive experiences with those professionals.

It’s also good to temper our improved drainage expectations with reality. It took almost five years for the Chestnut Avenue plantings to take full effect and even the best-engineered bio-retention cells and rain gardens don’t magically eliminate puddles. Realistically it can take days to filter normal rainwater downward; stormwater deluges such as what we experienced in 2018 can take longer. Please also remember, one size will never fit all, nor will any one solution be applicable to every situation; however, we can all at least partially benefit from our neighbors’ experiences and ideas. If we all pool our experiences perhaps we can get on the same track going in the right direction.

Steve Sapirie has provided a very detailed report reproduced below, but I’m certain Brigid, Kathy, Larry and Nina, Andy, and I would be willing to discuss our experiences with anyone who might be interested in our very specific situations.

And of course, not everyone can afford every solution. For example, Margaret and I paid about $12,000 to get our landscaping and drainage fixed (and worth every penny!); Steve and Manana may eventually get to around $7,000; and others can relate their realized and potential costs, but considering the price of a concrete driveway at about $6,000, and my latest furnace replacement at over $9,000, it puts things in perspective.

Any grand plan is only as good as its component parts and we are a wonderful and diverse jumble of over 300 properties with varying drainage conditions, and very varying degrees of personal interactions, but all of us probably want the same thing—making AOTB overall the best place to live.

To that end we’re asking you to share your experiences and engage in a dialog with neighbors through this new website forum that we’re establishing for that purpose. Just like Martha’s List (11) has helped several homeowners get the right help for their individual homeowner projects, we’re hoping The AOTB Drainage Forum will help us all help ourselves by exchanging knowledge, tips, and contractor and landscaper recommendations.

We can also use the forum to share and debate fairly simple landscaping tips that could aid drainage such as planting shade-loving perennials including hosta, ferns, astilbe, and Lilly-of-the-Valley, beneath our trees to keep that soil porous and help prevent ponding. Now that’s according to me and my penchant for pretty stuff that grows well. If I were better versed in best ecological practices, I might have “gone native” with some suggestions such as: Christmas ferns, hay-scented ferns, sensitive and autumn ferns—all good native species.

Some native perennials might be better substitutes such as woodland phlox, blue-eyed grass, golden ragwort, Virginia bluebells, Mayapple, bloodroot, native pachysandra, and trillium and accomplish the same thing—better drainage through their root structures in shady areas. These may not be as showy, and won’t spread as easily, but they are native and also importantly, native pollinators need them.

This long-winded introduction to our first personal-experience report is designed to encourage others to submit their own reports.

What was your problem and how did you deal with it? Or have you yet to start and are looking for advice?

Who else is willing to join our merry band of drainage activists? No particular training beyond personal initiative and the will to improve things is required, so send your experiences to me and I’ll get them into our website forum. Until then, click here to read what Steve has done.

Footnotes

1 - Believe it or not, AOTB has over five miles or over 650,000 square feet of impermeable asphalt and crushed rock road surfaces alone.

8 - Swales are roadside drainage structures which are often confused with “drainage ditches” and while swales perform a drainage function there are significant differences. See: https://sustainabletechnologies.ca/home/urban-runoff-green-infrastructure/low-impact-development/swales-and-roadside-ditches/

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See How the Stormwater Fee is being used
Read the Anne Arundel County Watershed Protection & Restoration Program Report:
A Land of Rivers

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Read Elvia Thompson's column in The Capital: Storm water is a public health issue

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Newport and Chestnut Avenue Project Areas
Arundel on the Bay continuous bio-retention, wetland reconstruction, and living shoreline projects

read more

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Dog Waste Stations

Our community has six pet waste stations, complete with bags to pick up waste and a receptacle to throw away the used bags. Our neighbor, Julie Winters, created the pet waste stations as part of her Watershed Steward class. There are many benefits that come with the use of these new pet waste stations. Pet owners will be more able to pick up and toss waste from their dogs during walks around our scenic neighborhood as a courtesy to everyone. Also it is very important to Scoop The Poop For Better Water Quality! Read more.

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Mosquitoes 101: What You Need to Knowmosquito

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Rain Gardens

rain gardenDo you have standing water on your property after heavy rainfall? Consider using Mother Nature to drain the water away in a manner that is friendly to our environment: build a rain garden!

A rain garden is an area in your garden that contains an indentation or dip to collect rain and melting snow allowing it to seep naturally into the ground. The garden collects not only the water but also any pollutants it carries such as oil from cars and lawnmowers and pesticides.

A well-designed rain garden will drain in a day, so mosquito larvae will not have a chance to hatch.

Native plants are the best choice for rain gardens and local nurseries can help you get started.

Here are some informative web links:

Rain Garden Network

10,000 Rain Gardens

Rainscapes

Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Bay-Friendly Landscaping