Forest Heights Mayor Jacqueline E. Goodall has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to stormwater carrying pollution to nearby waterways.
As a result, the town’s municipal building soon will be a site to capture all stormwater runoff after new pavement to trap and filter water is installed in its parking lot. A recent state environmental grant will allow for the Town Hall’s entrance to be lined with porous pavement that allows water to soak directly into the ground, adding the final piece to a demonstration site the town created to show how to reduce the amount of polluted water running into streams and rivers.
Stormwater runoff carries sediment and toxins picked up from rooftops and parking lots that house substances such as oil from parked vehicles. Eliminating runoff from properties prevents these substances from reaching main streams such as the Potomac River. In Maryland, only 34 percent of the Potomac’s water is deemed usable for fishing, swimming and treating for drinking water, according to a national water quality inventory study.
“I wanted to see if it was possible for us to not put any pollutants into the streams,” Goodall said. “So I said, ‘OK, let’s do it. Let’s see if it can be done.’”
The new installation to the parking lot, which will begin in July, was made possible through a roughly $60,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency through the Maryland Department of Natural Resources along with the Chesapeake Bay Trust.
There already is a small strip of porous pavement near the building’s front entrance that was installed in 2011, but the upcoming installation will nearly triple the amount of porous pavement to ensure all water running from the parking lot and municipal property does not leave the site. Goodall said she expects the work to be complete in September.
The pavers are a type of concrete pavement that filters stormwater directly into the ground and stops its flow into storm drains and waterways, Goodall said, noting Forest Heights is nestled directly next to Oxon Run, a stream leading into the Potomac River.
The town’s efforts to convert its grounds into a demonstration site to show others how to eliminate stormwater runoff began in 2007, when the Town Council planted a small number of trees along the parking lot as a way to catch polluted water leaving the lot. Additional efforts took off in 2008 when the town converted its dilapidated roof to a green roof — one lined with vegetative garden beds to consume and filter rainfall. As the rain falls, beds of plants on the roof soak up the water, while any unused rainfall drains to three rain barrels that collect water used for watering the surrounding gardens that have “living walls,” or retaining garden walls lined with additional plants inside them.
Rain gardens and conservation landscaping to stop erosion began being used in October as an additional way to stop polluted water from flowing off the grounds and into streams. The municipal grounds are home to the town’s police department and department of public works vehicles and sheds, along with the Town Hall.
Calvin Washington of Forest Heights, a former town police officer, said he initially didn’t understand why Goodall was advocating for a green roof, rain gardens and other such systems. He said after she explained the reasoning, he had a revelation and has since been planting trees and gardening to trap sediment-filled water from reaching the streams and rivers.
“Just to see what plants can do to reduce some of this is amazing,” he said. “Just think, if everybody did something like this, imagine how clean water would be.”
Goodall said despite their efforts, not all of the rainfall is contained on-site, and she said the pavement installation will capture any remaining runoff and complete the zero runoff demonstration site goal. Goodall said she’s been able to track how much runoff leaves the site by walking to each rain garden and porous pavement site outside during rain storms and observing where the rainfall travels and where it stops.
Lee Cain, the director of adult education for the Anacostia Watershed Society, a watershed preservation and education organization, said he is familiar with the Forest Heights site and uses it as an educational site to show people the capabilities of managing stormwater and keeping runoff contained. Cain said the new pavement installation will be a great complement to the existing rain beds and green roof.
“Her building is one-of-a-kind in this area. I can’t think of any other property I know of that has zero runoff,” he said. “The sediment and pollution that water is carrying is [a] really big problem. We want to replicate a natural cycle by slowing it down on-site and preventing it from becoming a problem. Her site is awesome. It’s a great model of water soaking into the ground.”
The annual Maryland Municipal League convention, a conference for municipal officials to meet and share ideas, will take place June 24, and Goodall said the town plans on showcasing its water management efforts, asking environmentally friendly paving companies to consider paving two to three parking spaces in the town’s parking lot as an additional zero runoff effort to serve as an example to town residents and visitors.
There already are three different types of porous pavement in several of the town’s parking spaces. Adding more companies’ pavement products will make every parking space porous and will give Town Hall visitors a wide variety of products to choose from if considering porous pavement for their own properties.
“We have many BMPs, or best management practices, for stormwater here, and we want everyone to come see it in action,” she said of her vision coming to fruition. “Everyone has their own goal or purpose. This is why I’m here.”