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Stormwater Runs Up Bills For Prince George's County

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By Sabri Ben-Achour

From the county level to the federal level, governments in this area are turning their attention to urban runoff, also known as storm-water. It can have expensive consequences.

Along the banks of Paint Branch Creek, just off of Rt.1 in College Park, Maryland, bright yellow cliff faces made of raw dirt stand out precariously from the landscape. Every so often, a little more crumbles into the water, and businesses here have had to spend millions to build retaining walls.

"It's the result of the fact that we've paved over a huge amount of our urban land and suburban land, or we created turf grass lawns, where there used to be woods," says Diane Cameron, Conservation Director for the Audubon Naturalist Society.

She says all that paving, 50 percent of the watershed in some areas, prevents rainwater from being absorbed into the ground. Instead, it's like a funnel that collects vast quantities of rain and sends it raging through streams, causing erosion and, she says, creating a very large bill.

"We have almost a billion dollars in unmet public damage repair here in P.G. County just in terms of gouged out stream channels," she says.

The county is developing what's known as an MS4 permit to regulate runoff, environmental groups are pushing for more rules on development to require what's known as environmental site design; rain gardens and buffers to let water soak into the ground rather than gush through streams and water ways.

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