Montgomery County Council Committee Opposes Proposed Overhaul of Stormwater Management Program

*Updated 6-6-2018 to reflect the line item veto from the County Executive. Scroll down to see new info!



On Friday, May 4th, 2018, the Transportation & Environment Committee of the Montgomery County Council opposed a proposal made by the County Executive that would have significantly shifted how the current stormwater management program is implemented, while accepting his recommendation to not raise the Water Quality Protection Charge. Committee members, Roger Berliner and Tom Hucker recommended the County’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) scrap the request to appropriate $48.3 million for an RFP that would have bundled a large portion of stormwater work into a design-build-maintain contract with a single contractor. They recommended that DEP instead continue the existing approach and work through the list of 44 delayed projects to identify which ones to move forward with.

Councilmember Berliner stated that “there are still too many unanswered questions as to how it would be more effective than our existing program – including whether it would come at the expense of our county’s Green Infrastructure goals and whether it would encourage a lowest-cost approach that would compromise larger environmental objectives. In addition, the proposal represents a significant shift in how our county does this important work, doing so during the budget process is not the right setting, and we still do not know what our obligations will be under the 2019-2024 NPDES-MS4 Permit from the state.”

The Proposal

Earlier this Spring, the County Executive proposed a cut in the Capital Improvements Program budget (CIP) budget for stormwater management by 70% or $243 million over the 6-year period. Montgomery County has been a leader in managing stormwater which helps reduce polluted runoff and protect stream health. As this proposal was being considered, 26 major proposed stormwater projects were cancelled with 44 more, well into the design stage, were put on indefinite hold. Whether these projects move forward would depend on whether they are selected and successfully bid on by the contractor.  The County’s DEP is also proposing to leave key positions unfilled and has built some very hopeful assumptions about sources of funding into this budget proposal. Read more at this Bethesda Beat article,Montgomery County Aims to Overhaul Stormwater Management Program.”

Of particular concern to the Sierra Club and our partners is whether the County will adhere to its new green infrastructure policy, in which it made a commitment to meet at least 60% of its MS4 permit requirement using green infrastructure to manage stormwater. The policy also committed to  evaluating the costs and multiple environmental social and economic benefits of these projects, compared with single-purpose gray infrastructure as a basis for project selection.

Many of these projects would be necessary regardless of permit obligations and can reduce the costs of maintaining gray infrastructure. For example, when stormwater erodes urban streams, it erodes and batters sewer pipes. By enabling water to infiltrate into soil, green infrastructure slows down runoff, and helps to protect gray infrastructure, as well as reduce flooding and provide many other well-known benefits associated with green spaces. As discussed at the Water Forum held last December, stormwater runoff upstream from drinking water intakes also increases the cost of water treatment, which is why WSSC is planning to spend $83 million on a mid-river submerged channel intake at the Potomac Water Filtration Plant, and an additional $157 million to upgrade the plant to handle the overloading of sediment. In other words, costs not paid through the Water Quality Protection Charge would just reappear on our water bills, in the form of higher costs to treat drinking water and maintain pipes.

Completion of work under the current MS4 permit should provide an opportunity for a collaborative review of the program so that improvements can be made in the next permit. Ahead of the committee’s vote, Sierra Club, along with our friends in the Stormwater Partners Network reached out to the members of the council to highlight our concerns and questions about the proposed change. We requested the Council pause these changes until;


  • It can be demonstrated that changes to the program will uphold the following set of principles:

    • That it will achieve watershed-specific restoration and protection goals;

    • Ensure meaningful public involvement in project planning and review;

    • Fulfill the DEP commitment to 60% green infrastructure;

    • Prioritize projects in which the public has already invested significant funds in planning and design;

    • Insure the next administration has the flexibility to meet higher than 5% requirements expected in the next permit.

  • The process insures transparency and improved communication about the value and multiple

  • The process streamlines projects by promoting greater coordination between all departments engaged in stormwater management – DEP, Parks, DOT, DPS and others – in meeting water quality objectives.

You can read more about our concerns and suggestions by reviewing Sierra Club’s testimony submitted to the Council on 4/24.


What happens next/What does the vote mean?

Sierra Club supports T&E Committee Chair Berliner’s recommendation, approved by a 2-1 committee vote, to complete existing stormwater projects now in the design pipeline. The County currently has 624.75 acres to be completed in suspended projects; the approach proposed by the Executive would build 526 acres under a new contracting model. The T&E Committee’s recommendation allows us to move forward with existing projects now, rather than waiting for a full procurement, bid, selection, and ramp up process for a new contractor.


5/11/18 Update

The County Executive sent a memo to the Council following the Committee decision. You can read that letter here, which was also reported on in the Bethesda Beat. Since then, the Stormwater Partners Network (with SC support) sent the following response. In it, we urge the Council to support the Committee decision and vote with their recommendation.


5/15/18 Update

On Monday May 14th, the full Council voted 5-4 to accept the T&E Committee recommendation to reject the proposal of the County Executive to change the contracting mechanism for stormwater projects, while accepting the proposed budget cut, so as to avoid raising the Water Quality Protection Charge. Instead, they directed DEP to complete the most promising existing projects now in the pipeline for which design is at least 60% complete, and that have demonstrated neighborhood support, giving priority to green infrastructure, and to the highest value and most cost-effective projects.


In addition, in preparation for the next MS4 permit expected to be issued by MDE in early 2019, the Council directed DEP to set up an Ad-Hoc Stormwater Working Group, through which to engage stakeholders in a review of how the program has been implemented, and a Triple Bottom Line review of the effectiveness  of alternative implementation models used in other jurisdictions. The Working Group will be expected to report on findings and make a recommendation to the Council and County Executive in October 2018 as to approaches worthy of implementation or pilot testing.


After the vote, Councilmember Tom Hucker, the T&E Committee Lead for Environment said: "Until we know what goals we must hit in 2019, it makes sense to get the best stakeholders at the table and engage the public to find common ground around the best policies so we can continue to have the model stormwater program for the region & state. Thanks to all the Stormwater Partners!"


We had recommended this type of collaborative review as a basis for achieving greater efficiency and effectiveness in the next permit, and look forward to participation in this process.


CM Tom Hucker and Stormwater Partners

In the picture, left to right:
Eliza Cava, ANS
Sylvia Tognetti, MD Sierra and MoCo Group
Tom Hucker, Councilmember District 5
Diane Cameron, Conservation Montgomery
Caitlin Wall, Potomac Conservancy


See also, coverage in the Bethesda Beat:

County Council Votes Against Leggett’s Plan To Change Stormwater Project Contracting


Update 5-24-2018

Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett announced his intent to line-item veto the Council's 5-4 decision on the stormwater CIP budget that would prevent a massive change in how stormwater is managed, without an opportunity for public review. This decision enables the continuation of stormwater management projects that were suspended, prioritizes green infrastructure, and prevents the Executive from bundling these projects into a single 5-year design-build-maintain contract. Equally important is that it enables a public review of the program and consideration of alternative implementation models, in a collaborative and transparent stakeholder process.


Six votes are needed to override the threatened veto, which is expected after the final vote on the budget package, scheduled for Thursday May 24th. Please email the full Council  and ask them to hold to their majority vote in support of the T&E stormwater recommendation, and to maintain the Council's charter authority to make budget decisions.


Action Alert: Tell the Montgomery County Council to hold to their majority vote for clean water FY19 budget!


Update 6-6-2018
The anticipated line item veto was issued on Friday June 1. See the Sierra Club Statement here

And more coverage in the Bethesday Beat:

Additional Resources

Sierra Club Testimony

Audubon Naturalist Society Testimony

Stormwater Partners Handout

Audubon Naturalist Society Blog (5/2)


This blog was written by Sylvia Tognetti, Water Team Chair, and Zack Gerdes, Conservation Organizer.