September 15, 2021
Guest Blogger David Wood
Inspiration can strike at any time: in the shower, on your commute, lying very still in a dark room hoping that your toddler is finally asleep. But sometimes, inspiration requires a bit of a nudge. I think this can be particularly true when we talk about something like stormwater. Many stormwater managers spend much of their day putting out fires – emergency repairs, permit reporting deadlines, nuisance flooding – making it easy to overlook the programs and projects they lead that result in cleaner, safer, and more resilient watersheds.
Despite the thousands of stormwater best management practices (BMPs) installed every year across the watershed, most practices, and those that design and build them, remain largely anonymous. To help show these vital practices a little more love, the Chesapeake Stormwater Network (CSN) created the Best Urban BMP in the Bay Awards, or the BUBBAs.
Started back in 2014, the BUBBAs shine a light on local innovators using creative approaches to protect and restore local watersheds. While similar competitions focus only on the design of new stormwater practices, CSN wants to also recognize on-the-ground techniques and brutal realities of tackling difficult stormwater problems. Put simply, the goal of the BUBBAs is three-fold:
- Recognize innovators in the field who are using new and creative techniques to treat runoff and protect streams;
- Share these innovative techniques with other communities who could benefit from the lessons learned; and
- Inspire interaction among our growing network of stormwater professionals throughout the Bay watershed and beyond.
The 5th edition of the BUBBAs contest concluded this spring and once again stood apart as easily the most inspiring part of my job. The nearly 70 projects and programs submitted this year demonstrated the quality and creativity of the professionals I have the pleasure of working with, while also showcasing the collaborative nature of the network.
To review the over 70 projects and programs that threw their hat in the ring, we were able to recruit a distinguished jury of 40 stormwater experts to select winners across seven different BMP categories including stream restoration practices, stormwater retrofits, urban habitat restoration, residential stewardship practices, and education and outreach programs.
This year’s Grand Prize went to the Maryland Port Administration, who not only had to overcome the constraints of limited space, high imperviousness, and historic contamination, but balance their restoration goals with the pressure to maintain the economic competitiveness of the Port. Impressively, they worked creatively to incorporate over-treatment into development projects at underutilized areas on the marine terminals. They also partnered with other local organizations to place targeted stormwater controls in pollutant hot-spots of concern to the community.
Our best residential project, designed and submitted by Welspryng, LLC, flipped the age-old problem of backyard drainage on its head, creating a project that actually made the yard wetter!
The net effect was a series of vernal pools. This approach, combined with a unique native plant palette specifically designed to thrive in the wet conditions, brought an exciting mix of wildlife to the backyard, including monarch butterflies, dragonflies, tadpoles, and wood frogs.
Meanwhile, stormwater education and outreach programs had maybe the toughest challenge of all in the face of Covid-19 lockdowns that prevented large community events and workshops. Our “Small But Mighty” award winner was an education and outreach campaign developed and submitted by Lynchburg Water Resources, which showed creativity and adaptability under such unusual circumstances. The lighthearted virtual campaign called “Water Wonders” was effective in its use of simple but effective messaging in a series of weekly videos on topics ranging from rain barrels to habitat creation.
Celebrating these great projects is important, and I hope you will find time to explore each and every one of our winners. Not only do those involved deserve a pat on the back (and probably a cold beverage or two), but these projects can serve as inspiration for other communities dealing with some of these same challenges. In fact, one of the best parts of the BUBBAs this year was seeing the congratulations flow back and forth across a Zoom chat during our awards ceremony, attended by nearly 200 people looking to celebrate each other’s accomplishments and learn from their successes.
My all-time favorite quote from the BUBBAs came from a juror a few years ago, who said that reading the submissions restored her faith in humanity. Whether it is an overstatement or not, let’s not forget to appreciate all the progress we can make when we think outside the box and share ideas that can restore our watersheds.
David Wood is the Stormwater Coordinator for the Chesapeake Stormwater Network. Besides running the BUBBAs competition, David develops training and resources for stormwater professionals across the Bay watershed, and serves as the coordinator for the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Urban Stormwater Workgroup. He graduated from St. Mary’s College of Maryland and lives in Baltimore County with his wife, daughter, and a small zoo.