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A Blue View: Stormwater - A Search for Solutions

by John Racanelli, Chief Executive Officer

Published July 31, 2013

A Blue View is a weekly perspective on the life aquatic, hosted by National Aquarium CEO John Racanelli.

From the smallest plants and animals invisible to the human eye to entire ecosystems, every living thing depends on and is intricately linked by water.

Tune in to 88.1 WYPR every Tuesday at 5:45 p.m. as John brings to the surface important issues and fascinating discoveries making waves in the world today.

July 31, 2013: Stormwater - A Search for Solutions

Click here to listen to John and Halle Van der Gaag from Blue Water Baltimore discuss stormwater runoff!

John: We hear a lot about stormwater, but many of us still don’t exactly know what it is and why we should care. In Baltimore and all across the country, however, stormwater runoff is a major problem. To help us understand what this issue means to our community, Halle Van der Gaag, executive director of Blue Water Baltimore, is with me in the studio. Hi, Halle. 

Halle: Hi, John. Thanks for having me. 

J: There’s a lot of misinformation out there about stormwater, but at its most basic, what is stormwater, and how does it relate to our community and our waters? 

H: Stormwater runoff is actually rainwater that hits our pavement, roofs, and parking lots, and flows downstream, carrying pollutants, animal waste, fertilizer, and pesticides. What a lot of people don’t realize is that it actually carries air pollution that lands on our pavement, and washes that downstream as well. 

J: Why is our stormwater situation so critical here in Baltimore? 

H: For a long time, no one paid attention to stormwater. We were focused on industrial pollution and agricultural pollution. The reality of it is that pipes that carry stormwater are old, deteriorating, and breaking. They have not been maintained and they need an infrastructure overhaul. 

J: Do we have a lot of impervious surfaces here? Describe what those are. 

H: Impervious surface is just a term for hardscape or pavement – hard surfaces where you get no infiltration of rainwater. If you look around Baltimore, you’ll see that we have lots and lots of pavement. Not all of it is actually being used. Some of it is streets, but some of it is parking lots. 

J: How does this whole situation manifest itself in our city these days? 

H: What we’re seeing a lot is pipes bursting, streets collapsing, pollution in our waterways and in our harbor. It’s a real problem, not just for our waterways but as an inconvenience to commuters and people who are living and working in Baltimore. 

J: It’s obviously a very costly and labor-intensive problem to solve, but what kind of work is being done now to help with this issue? 

H: Recently, people have probably heard about a stormwater utility fee that has been passed in Baltimore and across the state. This allows Baltimore to finally be proactive and actually have the resources it needs to fix stormwater pipes before they break. 

J: I know this is a really important issue, and some people have mis-characterized the stormwater fee as a rainwater tax and things like that. Help us understand more what these fees will help accomplish and how that might help the Chesapeake Bay. 

H: In addition to fixing pipes, we also see lots of opportunities for green infrastructure, for opportunities to create stormwater practices that will help beautify the city, but are actually functional, beautiful spaces where you’re using plants and trees to filter and slow down stormwater before it hits the streets. It can be happening on public right-aways and in parks, but there’s a lot that people can do in their own backyards – installing rain gardens, rain barrels, planting conservation landscaping, lots of things that folks can actually do. Then they can offset and ask the city for credit for the stormwater fee. The goal here is to reduce pollution, not just collect fees that go into a big giant pipe. 

J: Reducing pollution is something that’s good for all of us. Thank you so much for joining me, Halle. To learn more about Blue Water Baltimore and how you can reduce your stormwater impacts at home, visit

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