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Storm water runoff: Governments pledge to show the way in curbing a major bay pollution source.

January 25, 2002

THE FASTEST-growing source of pollution of the Chesapeake Bay begins as raindrops.

As rain runs off from streets and parking lots, storm water sweeps away chemicals and wastes collected there and carries them into the bay and its streams.

Storm water runoff is now the primary cause of pollution for nearly 1,600 miles of streams in the Chesapeake watershed.

It accounts for 15 percent of all nutrient (nitrogen and phosphorus) pollution and 9 percent of sediment entering the estuary, according to the Chesapeake Bay Program. It's also a big source of toxic pollution.

Thankfully, the local governments that own 13 percent of the land in the bay watershed (together with the federal government) are already acting to find new approaches to storm water management and new techniques to curb urban runoff.

Rooftop gardens and tree boxes on paved land are among the ideas they plan to use. Rain gardens that use swaths of grass and plants to catch and clean rainwater would replace large holding ponds. Pervious pavement that allows seepage into the ground instead of fast runoff will be tested.

These commitments for government lands are the first major steps taken since Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency signed the Chesapeake 2000 agreement to clean up the bay by 2010.

It's a welcome step that could further help preserve this area's most important natural asset.

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