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MDOT Celebrates Earth Day

April 22nd, 2021 by WCBC Radio

The Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) is celebrating Earth Day with the completion of the state’s first public-private partnership to deliver “smart ponds” that use advanced stormwater control technology to reduce pollutants and curb local flooding at three sites across Maryland. The “smart pond” technology, which regulates the flow of water from stormwater management sites, was installed at Walmart stores in Fruitland, Aberdeen and Hagerstown. The public-private partnership that led to the project is the first of its kind involving a state transportation department in the United States and could be replicated elsewhere in the mid-Atlantic and across the country.

“These smart ponds are another innovative way we’re working to improve the communities we serve,” said MDOT Secretary Greg Slater. “We’re being responsible stewards of the environment while at the same time helping protect the infrastructure that supports our hard-working residents and businesses.”

MDOT is partnering with the Maryland Department of Environment (MDE), U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Walmart, The Nature Conservancy and technology company Opti on the smart ponds project.

“We’re setting an example for the nation on how to combine creative forces for cleaner water and safer communities in the face of climate change and local flooding,” said Maryland Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles. “We all win when environmental and transportation agencies work together with business and conservation leaders to deliver innovative solutions.”

Developed by Opti, smart pond technology improves stormwater pond operations using sensors and software to monitor real-time conditions such as water level and storage volume. The system, especially important now as spring rains hit the state, uses internet-based forecasts to remotely operate valves that control timing and volume of water discharge. Longer retention time increases water quality by capturing more sediment and nutrients. When rain is forecast, the system can automatically open valves to drain the pond prior to precipitation. This helps maximize storage efficiency and can reduce downstream flooding.

“As a mission driven organization, we take great pride in delivering this innovative and highly impactful project for the citizens of Maryland,” said David Rubinstein, Opti's CEO. “The technology we put in place is helping to protect the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed.  None of this would have been possible without the excellent collaboration of the public and private sector teams. Together, we proved that we can improve environmental outcomes, greatly leverage taxpayer dollars and continually adapt to constantly changing weather patterns.”

The system also can be operated manually from any internet-connected device. System data can help prioritize maintenance needs.

“As part of the community, Walmart is honored to be part of the solution to improve Chesapeake Bay water quality through this partnership,” said Toni McCrory, Senior Director, Environmental, Health, and Safety Compliance, Walmart Inc. “The completion of these projects reinforces our goal of becoming a regenerative company by helping to protect and restore nature. Enhancing our existing stormwater assets under this program allows us to work smarter by helping to remove pollution, restore natural hydrology, and reduce flooding in a cost effective and sustainable manner. We appreciate our partners who helped make this possible.”

The Walmart sites that received smart pond technology through the partnership are:

  • Walmart Supercenter Fruitland, 409 N. Fruitland Blvd., Fruitland;
  • Walmart Supercenter Aberdeen, 645 S Philadelphia Blvd, Aberdeen; and
  • Sam's Club Hagerstown, 1700 Wesel Blvd., Hagerstown.

The smart ponds project complements other initiatives to plan, design and implement water quality improvement strategies to meet the EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) requirements for the year 2025. According to EPA, there are 65,000 privately held stormwater management ponds in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, including 18,500 in Maryland.

“It’s encouraging to see Maryland’s progress on this public-private smart ponds project that plays an important role in addressing stormwater runoff in the Chesapeake Bay watershed,” said EPA Mid-Atlantic Acting Regional Administrator Diana Esher. “Controlling stormwater runoff can result in environmental benefits across the country, and this partnership approach can serve as a model for communities nationwide.”

A contract between Maryland Environmental Service (MES) and The Nature Conservancy/Opti to retrofit the three Walmart ponds as smart ponds was finalized on July 8, 2020. MDOT's payment of $3.25 million will purchase 80 acres worth of Chesapeake Bay impervious area treatment credits generated by the smart ponds at Walmart. After MES certification of the credits, MDOT will begin purchasing the credits this spring.

“The completion of the installation of the Continuous Monitoring and Adaptive Control (CMAC) stormwater management ponds at the Walmart sites is an exciting advancement in stormwater control and pollutant removal,” said Maryland Environmental Service Director Dr. Charles Glass, P.E. “The technology saves money and improves the quality of the water being reintroduced into the Chesapeake Bay. MES is proud to be have provided unique procurement and certification processes for the project and looks forward to developing more uses of ‘smart pond’ technology.”

The technology installation at the three Walmart locations was completed between July 2020 and March 2021. Geese, turtles, frogs and other wildlife already have taken up residence at the ponds.

While the MDOT State Highway Administration has already met MDE's compliance goals of treating stormwater runoff from 4,261 acres of impervious area by the October 2020 deadline, these credits demonstrate that MDOT strives to go above and beyond to support the environment.

The smart pond partnership represents the first time a state department of transportation is purchasing credits from a Water Quality Trading Program. MDE established Maryland's program, creating a water quality marketplace for credits generated by pollutant reductions elsewhere in Maryland's portion of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. This market-based approach offers economic incentives for pollutant reductions.