John McCoy, Columbia Association watershed manager

Why is watershed management important?

There is more than one watershed in Columbia, and all of them are defined by the same principle — the water that falls onto the ground drains into streams, rivers and other bodies of water.

A watershed is defined as the area that drains to any specific body of water. Columbia is in the Little Patuxent River Watershed, the Middle Patuxent River Watershed and the Dorsey Run Watershed. Smaller watersheds within each of these drain to the streams that feed the rivers.

What we do on the ground has an affect on water quality. As water hits the ground it picks up and carries everything from sediment to the chemicals we put on our lawns and other forms of pollution. That affects our waterways, from the streams and the Little and Middle Patuxent rivers to the lakes and ponds around our community and all the way to the Chesapeake Bay. What goes into our water affects plants, wildlife and water quality, which in turn has consequences on our lifestyle.

What is Columbia Association doing?

That’s why Columbia Association (CA) developed the Columbia Watershed Management Plan with the objective of protecting and restoring the waters of Columbia.

The two-pronged plan begins with identifying and restoring Columbia’s watershed infrastructure, performing intensive investigations to find pollution sources and then designing restoration projects to reduce them. Just as important, though, is educating and involving residents and property owners in watershed stewardship.

CA’s Watershed Advisory Committee was formed in 2008 to involve Columbia residents in creating and implementing watershed plans, enhancing public awareness and facilitating further education on watershed issues. More information on the Watershed Advisory Committee is available here.

How can I help?

CA offers several ways that community members can help contribute to a healthier watershed — the Rain Garden Cost Share Program, a free soil testing program and the Weed Warriors program.

The Rain Garden Cost Share Program offers residents within the Little Patuxent Watershed with a cost-effective way to install rain gardens, which slow the flow of stormwater and work to filter out pollutants.

A rain garden is a shallow excavated depression or saucer-shaped garden designed to collect stormwater runoff from roofs, pavement, sidewalks and other impervious surfaces. Rather than discharging pollutants directly into waters, the rain garden temporarily stores the runoff, lets some of the water soak into the ground and releases what doesn’t soak in over a period of time. This reduces the amount of pollutants that will eventually enter our waterways. Rain gardens are also a great way to slow down the speed of rainwater, which lessens the impact stormwater runoff has on eroding the banks of our lakes.

A key factor in helping to Slow the Flow is using rain gardens with native plants, shrubs, grasses and flowers. The fundamental advantage of native plants is that they have adapted to local conditions such as soil and climate. They are more resistant to insects and need no fertilizer. They generally don’t need much maintenance once you add them to your landscape.

And you’ll have a great looking garden that puts water in its place!

CA encourages residents throughout the community to plant rain gardens. Presently, CA offers its Rain Garden Cost Share Program to residents living in the Little Patuxent Watershed, which includes all of the villages of Dorsey’s Search, Long Reach, Oakland Mills, Owen Brown, Town Center and Wilde Lake, as well as the neighborhoods of Clemens Crossing (in Hickory Ridge) Longfellow (in Harper’s Choice) and MacGill’s Common (in Kings Contrivance). CA, via a grant from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, will pay 75 percent of the rain garden installation cost, with the remaining 25 percent paid by the resident. CA also has a landscape firm on contract for installation.

Residents need to apply to their village Resident Architectural Committee for approval. Once the rain garden application is approved, the resident pays the 25 percent share to CA. The  maintenance agreement is then signed and the installation will be scheduled.

Learn more about CA’s Rain Garden Cost Share Program.

Free soil testing helps you know what kind of fertilizer to use on your lawn and how much. This helps prevent people from using too much fertilizer, which then washes into Columbia’s streams, ponds and lakes. It also brings homeowners into compliance with state fertilizer regulations. Soil test bags are available from the offices of Columbia’s 10 village community associations.  Place your soil sample in the bag and bring it back to your village community association office. CA will then send it to a lab for analysis and contact you with the results and recommendations.

The Weed Warrior Program is a cooperative program with Howard Community College, the University of Maryland Extension Service and the Middle Patuxent Environmental Area.  CA and its partners train volunteers in invasive plant identification and removal and in the leadership skills required to lead groups of volunteers participating in invasive removal activities. CA also supports these activities by providing native plants to plant in areas where non-natives have been removed. The program is designed to help improve the appearance of open space and provide a better balance for our ecosystem.