Church and county join forces to remedy Western Run erosion

Ashland Presbyterian lot eaten away by stream

July 28, 2004|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

On a sunny summer afternoon, the Western Run lazes around a U-shaped bend behind Ashland Presbyterian Church, ripples from dancing water bugs making the only disturbance in its slow slide to the Loch Raven Reservoir.

But in a heavy rain, that peaceful bend in the stream became an erosion nightmare. When runoff from the church met the surging waters of the stream, they combined to chew away at the steep slope. Church officials worried they were one bad storm away from seeing their parking lot crumble into the embankment.

After years of planning and negotiations with the city of Baltimore, which owns that part of the streambed, and the county, which has the wherewithal to do something about the erosion, the stream behind Ashland Presbyterian will soon be tamed.

`Pretty serious problem'

A church member, Noel Pribble, was the first to spot the problem four years ago. An electrical engineer by trade, now retired, Pribble saw the fence posts at the edge of the parking lot bending down toward the water, and a deep V-shape carved into the embankment where the water was crashing into the soil.

"It didn't take any engineering capacity to look at that and see what was happening," he said. "It would have eventually come up all the way behind the church if we'd left it alone 20 or 30 years."

He and members of the church's session, its governing board, discovered that the city owns their piece of the stream, which flows into the Loch Raven Reservoir, part of the system that provides water to much of the region. But the city Department of Public Works told them it wasn't able to take on the project, church officials said.

Cal Starr, a church elder, took up the problem in 2001. He tried to persuade the county's Department of Environmental Protection and Resource Management to take up the job. He got nowhere until another church member called an acquaintance, County Councilman T. Bryan McIntire, and asked for help.

McIntire, who represents the area, got department Director David A.C. Carroll to visit the site with him two or three times, and the county agreed to restore the stream.

"It was something that needed to be done, and the county picked up the ball," McIntire said.

Candace Croswell, who is in charge of stream restoration projects for the county, said the cause of the problem is complex. With more development comes more "impervious surfaces" - roads, parking lots, roofs and the like that prevent rain from being absorbed by the ground and, instead, channel it into storm drains and from there into creeks or streams.

That means that streams such as Western Run carry more water than they used to.

Over the years, branches, leaves and other debris lodged in the bottleneck near the church, building up a natural dam and diverting the stream straight into the bank.

`Really pretty looking'

The embankment is now stabilized with stacked rocks, and the soil above is held down with two kinds of mesh that will eventually be covered by vegetation. On the other side of the stream, workers have created a flood plain, and they are putting more stone into the stream to keep the water flowing in its proper channel. The work should be complete by early next month.

"If you saw it before and see it now, it's really pretty looking," Croswell said.

The county began the $315,000 project last month, with the church picking up a quarter of the tab. Croswell said it's fairly common for the county to join with private groups to tackle stream restoration projects on private property or land owned by the city. Restoring the streams improves the quality of the water that goes into the reservoirs, and comes out of the taps of county residents, she said.

This summer's storms have made church officials realize how dire the problem could have been - when heavy rains hit earlier this month, the stream swelled nine feet above its usual level. Carla Ulgen, clerk of the church's session, said it's a relief that the county took on the job.

"It's the kind of thing we never could have done on our own," she said.

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