Yes In My Back Yard: Montgomery County, Md. prioritizes green infrastructure - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Yes In My Back Yard: Montgomery County, Md. prioritizes green infrastructure

Metropolitan Planning Council

Rain gardens and rain barrels, like these in Logan Square, are helping Montgomery County catch rainwater where it falls.

Yes In My Back Yard is an ongoing series of case studies on stormwater management incentive programs around the U.S. and Canada. See more information about MPC’s project and read other profiles here.

Name of program: RainScapes

Location:  Montgomery County, Md.

Organization in charge: Watershed Restoration section of Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection

Funding source: Water Quality Protection Charge

Date started: 2009

Type of incentive: Rebate

Eligible participants: Both residential and commercial property owners can apply. Those living within Montgomery County but outside of the municipalities of Rockville, Gaithersburg and Takoma Park are eligible to apply. 

Stormwater solutions offered in program: Rain gardens, rain barrels, canopy trees, green roofs, permeable pavement, pavement removal, cisterns and dry wells

Goals of programs: Stormwater volume reduction, with a goal to complete 880 projects and control an average of one inch of stormwater over 50 acres by February 2015

Assessment Metrics: Inspections every three years

Montgomery County, Md.’s RainScapes program, established in 2009, addresses regulations required through Montgomery County’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit to manage frequent rainfall and stormwater runoff. Many RainScapes practices can control more than one inch of rain in a given storm event. In Montgomery County, 90 percent of storms deliver on average one inch or less of rainfall. 

The Water Quality Protection Charge, which funds RainScapes, is a user-based stormwater charge calculated as part of the County’s property taxes and based on the proportion of impervious area of a given property. In Montgomery County, one of these areas, called the Equivalent Residential Unit, is equivalent to 2,406 square feet of impervious surface. For the 2014 tax year, the charge for one unit is $88.40. The larger the property size, the higher the potential for contributing to stormwater problems, so the greater the charge.

Depending on the type of project a property owner wants to install, the rebate level varies. For lower-cost projects like rain barrels, cisterns and tree canopies, RainScapes covers on average 50 percent of costs. Moderate-cost projects like conservation landscaping, pavement removal and rain gardens are covered from 30 to 50 percent. High-cost projects like dry wells, green roofs and permeable pavers will on average receive 15 to 50 percent of funding. RainScapes has put together a table showing the rankings of project types based on the ability to reduce stormwater on property as well as the level of active participation and the cost. Such a tool allows for easy interpretation of potential projects to determine the cost-benefit. The rebate values are capped at $2,500 for residential and $10,000 for commercial properties. 

A separate aspect of the Water Quality Protection Charge is the credit that the taxpayers can receive if they adhere to the Best Management Practices recommended by Montgomery County. Maryland State law in 2012 mandated that a water quality charge should be added to property taxes. While Montgomery County has been taxing water quality since 2002, it was in 2012 that the credit program was initiated, allowing property owners to receive up to a 60 percent credit toward the Water Quality Protection Charge.

Montgomery County provides substantial technical assistance to determine what, where and how a stormwater project should be installed. Property owners rarely know where to start, so program staff visit the property to assess what is possible and make recommendations, for which the property owner can then apply for the rebate. For example, you might think the place for the rain garden is the area of greatest flooding on the lawn; in fact, a rain garden is more effective at the top of a slope, combatting flooding before it reaches a low-lying, flood prone area. After a free training provided by Montgomery County for local contractors, they are better able to advise property owners. The contractors perform several tests, including slope and absorption rates of the lawn. If the results of the inspection show a slow absorption rate, the contractor might suggest conservation landscaping—native deep-rooted plants that absorb rainfall faster than average grass—rather than a rain garden, to avoid digging deep in soil that won’t be able to soak in the water.

Beyond providing rebates for individual property owners, RainScapes has funded private institutions, homeowners associations, businesses, schools, non-profits, nature centers and public and community spaces. When partnering with local schools, RainScapes places a great emphasis on team-building and education. The program additionally takes a targeted approach to stormwater mitigation with the RainScapes Neighborhoods program. This program allows for a concentrated effort in geographic areas requiring more drastic stormwater control measures. The program coordinates both private and public property projects, and therefore involves a greater partnership between community associations and other county agencies like the Department of Transportation.

RainScapes reported 454 paid-for projects in 2013; the current number of projects is closer to 500. The informal feedback on the RainScapes program has been resoundingly positive. Citizens greatly appreciate the site visits and the level of expertise produced through the contractor training programs. Montgomery County is now looking toward a more hands-on approach to community involvement, as well as broadening participation through fun community events and even faith-based organizations.

Lessons Learned:

  • Montgomery County has drastically increased applicant participation in the RainScapes program through a targeted approach to stormwater management with the Stormwater Neighborhoods Program. A neighborhood-centric focus targets those areas most impacted by stormwater as determined by the County. These projects end up being larger-scale and involve greater collaboration between Montgomery County, private property owners, community associations and watershed groups. Such involvement greatly increases productivity and project completion.
  • Montgomery County provides two free training courses per year for contractors and landscape professionals to train them how to properly install various forms of green infrastructure. After completion of this course, the contractors and landscape professionals’ names are added to a list of trained contractors posted to the RainScapes website. Not only does this ensure that the green infrastructure projects are reviewed and installed properly, it encourages industry professionals to expand their skillset and perspective on stormwater issues.
  • A dedicated staff of four full time and one part time administrator at RainScapes allows for greater efficacy and the ability to fine-tune the program. RainScapes did just that by listening to applicant feedback regarding the complicated process of putting together a project proposal prior to site visits. Now, the site visits include assistance in completing the proposal. The site visits are also advantageous to ensure correct installment of projects.

Want to learn more about other intiatives around the country? Our Yes In My Back Yard series is for you!

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