A Walkable Watershed integrates the flow of water and people into a cohesive strategy to improve the overall health of a community and the surrounding watershed. The concept is based on the idea that high-quality water goes hand-in-hand with a high quality of life, supporting access to the outdoors, enhanced community infrastructure and services, and stronger health outcomes.
A Walkable Watershed process:
CEI's Freetown Farm is located less than a mile from the Middle Patuxent River within the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. Currently stormwater from neighboring Atholton High School is directed onto the farm via a culvert and underground pipe and the previous farm owner piped this water to the edge of the property, resulting in flooding and erosion for residential neighbors. Stormwater runoff from the school also flows across the road and a bus yard and on to the farm causing flooding for the farm as well as surrounding properties. CEI and Atholton High School are in a unique position to support the health of the Middle Patuxent watershed through treatment of a significant volume of stormwater runoff as well as model how homeowners and commercial properties can address stormwater issues in a socio-ecologically beneficial manner.
From 2019 to 2021 CEI implemented a series of three Chesapeake Bay Trust (CBT) grants called “Water F.O.R.C.E.” to address the stormwater from the high school that flows on to our farm. We completed an ecological master plan of the property and developed a plan to implement best management practices in the northwest field of the farm that will slow the stormwater down, spread it out, and allow it to soak into the ground. A second series of CBT grants through the Green Streets, Green Jobs, Green Towns is focused on mitigating the runoff from the high school by developing a green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) concept plan for the high school using a selection of integrated best management practices (BMPs). These projects will begin the “walkable watershed” by developing connected projects between the school and CEI’s farm property to provide students access to outdoor environmental education opportunities. Once implemented, these two connected projects will provide a highly visible demonstration of BMPs such as bioretention areas, infiltration trenches and dry wells, berms and swales, rain gardens, urban tree canopies, conservation landscapes, and rainwater harvesting. In addition to the demonstration value of the project, the installation of the BMPs will achieve reductions in nutrient and sediment loads in Middle Patuxent Watershed.
The work at Freetown Farm and Atholton High School will be the beginning of a larger community Walkable Watershed initiative supported by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation that will address stormwater management issues while simultaneously addressing community needs and neighborhood quality of life goals – such as improved neighborhood connectivity and better access to vibrant outdoor spaces – and integrating different assets within the community including CEI’s environmental learning center, Atholton High School, Robinson Nature Center, and the cultural heritage of Harriet Tubman’s Underground Railroad route. CEI is leading this initiative because we are connected and committed to the community and the different stakeholders associated with this work while also being nimble enough to take a leadership role in encouraging and pursuing innovations. The Freetown Walkable Watershed Initiative report is available here.
The University of Maryland Extension and the Howard County Watershed Stewards Academy are key partners through all the phases of the walkable watershed initiative. CEI worked with Biohabitats to develop the design to address the stormwater flowing onto Freetown Farm. We are working with Skeo Solutions on the walkable watershed design plans for Atholton High and the surrounding Hickory Ridge community. They completed their first Walkable Watershed pilot in early 2012 in a community in Richmond, Virginia. They have since led Walkable Watershed projects benefiting communities with environmental justice concerns in more than seven locations across the country. We worked with Howard EcoWorks and Triangle Contracting on the BMP installation elements at Freetown Farm and are bringing this team back for the installation of BMPs at Atholton High School, new work which is being overseen by Coastal Resources Inc.