MDOT State Highway Administration, Living Classrooms partner on education to help restore Chesapeake Bay MDE approves and requires rigorous testing to ensure science-based, measurable results
News Release, Maryland Departments of Transportation and Environment
BALTIMORE (April 22, 2020) – The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) has approved an innovative approach to Chesapeake Bay restoration that encourages and rewards environmental education that helps reduce and prevent pollution.
The Maryland Department of Transportation State Highway Administration (MDOT SHA) and Living Classrooms Foundation are launching a pilot education program that will encourage activities to reduce pollution to Maryland waterways and the Chesapeake Bay. The program – whose successes will be measured under MDE oversight – is the first of its kind in Maryland and is believed to be the first such program in the bay region.
“One of the best ways to celebrate Earth Day is to get cleaner and greener by boosting education and inspiration,” said Maryland Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles. “By encouraging innovative partnerships with civic and education-based organizations, our state can deliver even greater results for healthy communities, climate-resilient watersheds, and a restored Chesapeake Bay.”
“Working with Living Classrooms and other Bay partners, this program will help us empower one of our greatest resources in cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay – our young people,” said Transportation Secretary Gregory Slater. “Together we will educate future stewards of the environment with a program that’s informative, innovative, and driven by data to achieve real progress in restoring the bay.”
MDOT SHA is investing in the program as part of the agency’s commitment to pollution reduction goals under its municipal stormwater permit. MDE is committed to working with MDOT SHA and Living Classrooms to establish a scientific basis for credits that MDOT SHA would receive toward its stormwater permit obligations for environmentally positive actions that result from the educational program. Those actions might include reducing the use of fertilizer, building rain gardens, using rain barrels to reduce polluted stormwater runoff or increasing the use of public transit to reduce emissions that can deposit nutrient pollution in the bay.
The scientific basis for crediting an educational best management practice (BMP) supports the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Citizen Stewardship Outcome Management Strategy, which holds that the long-term success and sustainability of the Chesapeake Bay restoration effort will ultimately depend on the actions and support of the 17 million residents who call the watershed home. The MDOT SHA-Living Classrooms partnership is also committed to working with Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay Trust and the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Urban Stormwater Work Group for determining scientifically based pollutant load reductions for an education BMP.
“Living Classrooms is very excited about this partnership with MDOT-SHA,” said James Piper Bond, President and CEO of Living Classrooms. “We are grateful to MDE for approval of this innovative pilot project that will help grow the next generation of environmental stewards while improving the health of our waterways.”
Established in 1985, Living Classrooms Foundation’s mission is to strengthen communities and inspire people to achieve their potential through hands-on education and job training, using urban, natural, and maritime resources as “living classrooms.”
Secretary Slater, who previously served as MDOT SHA Administrator, said the partnership with Living Classrooms is part of an MDOT commitment to work with communities and organizations across Maryland. He said the idea for the educational program was sparked by ongoing concern with litter that effects the health of the bay – in 2018 MDOT spent a more than $9 million on litter abatement. The secretary said he believes education can help curb the litter problem. He’s also excited the project will benefit schools in Baltimore City, home of MDOT SHA headquarters.
“MDOT’s environmental programs are a key part of our mission and we are continuously looking for innovative partnerships in yielding sustainable results,” said Secretary Slater. “This partnership recognizes that education is just as important as our physical efforts to tackle pollution.”
Governor Larry Hogan renewed Maryland’s commitment to environmental education to ensure that every child in Maryland has the opportunity to learn about their local environment, develop a connection with nature, and have a better sense of place in their natural surroundings. The governor signed an Executive Order establishing Project Green Classrooms, an initiative to promote outdoor experiential activities and environmental education through Maryland’s schools, communities and public lands.
While environmental education has long been a fundamental component of the bay’s restoration effort, quantifying actual pollutant reductions has been difficult. This pilot project is designed to tie environmental education and pollutant reductions together through rigorous social and scientific monitoring. When students are moved to install rain gardens for capturing stormwater runoff or take mass transit for reducing harmful emissions, those actions can be tracked, pollutant reductions can be measured and stormwater discharges can be reduced. Jurisdictions looking for new and innovative approaches for meeting municipal stormwater permit discharge requirements will now have an incentive for investing in environmental education.
In approving the MDOT SHA proposal, MDE set requirements for the transportation agency to meet to receive credits toward its permit requirements and outlined steps that must be taken by the one-, two- and three-year anniversaries of the pilot program. To read MDE’s approval letter and its requirements and conditions, go to https://mde.maryland.gov/Documents/MDE-SHA-ED-BMP-3_30_2020.pdf.
This new partnership becomes part of MDOT’s portfolio of environmental and educational programs. In addition to environmental efforts that are part of every project, initiatives include MDOT SHA’s Adopt-A-Highway and anti-litter campaigns, MDOT Maryland Port Administration’s sponsorship of Captain Trashwheel at Masonville Cove, and the Smart Ponds pilot program, a public-private partnership that uses advanced stormwater control technology to reduce pollutants and curb local flooding.
Other educational programs include MDOT SHA’s sponsorship of TRAC (Transportation and Civil Engineering), a program that engages middle- and high-school students in hands-on projects with the help of professional planners, engineers and environmental scientists; and another agreement with Living Classrooms in which MDOT SHA will donate 200 used computers to the nonprofit for use in its regional environmental programs.