Guest Blog on Stormwater Changes

By Timothy Male.

County Executive Leggett’s proposal to take a new approach to use contracts to deliver our clean water goals is an exciting opportunity for the county.  In 2015, Prince George’s County took a similar approach, signing a $100 million contract with the firm, Corvias.  Contrary to Seventh States’ coverage on this issue, this is not privatization – private companies already bid for and complete Montgomery County stormwater projects.  What Prince Georges does – and Montgomery County could do – is give those companies incentives to deliver projects faster and more creatively while creating local jobs, job training and benefits for schools.

In Prince George’s County, the partnership between the county and Corvias delivered more than 1,300 acres of impervious surface treatment in just 2 years and is on track to achieve the 2,500 acres – 500 more than established in the contract.  The partnership is important for its equity benefits as well.  The county set explicit goals for local workforce development, local subcontracting, and school-based projects that have educational benefits.  More than 80 percent of contracted funds are procured to locally owned, small, minority- or woman- owned businesses.  This form of social impact partnership ensures that environmental projects also deliver wins for disadvantaged communities.  What’s more, you can find all this data easily in Prince George’s County, through annual reports and an up-to-date online dashboard, because the company has a strong incentive (and requirement) to report back to the county on their progress.

Prince George’s County is not the only local jurisdiction building a record of success by taking an innovative approach to stormwater.  DC Water – Washington’s water utility – has won national accolades for creating one of the nation’s first “environmental impact bonds.”  In this case, DC Water raised private funding to pay for green infrastructure projects in northwest DC.  An important distinction in DC’s case is that the funding is a pay-for-success initiative, like many similar efforts launched by the Obama Administration.  If the projects work to store and filter stormwater, the foundation and company that loaned DC Water the money get paid back, but if the project doesn’t work then DC Water does not have to pay them back.  This is a great example of how government can help ensure that taxpayers (or ratepayers) don’t bear the risks from trying something new.  The ultimate goal of DC’s project is that, if it works, they will have an opportunity to use green infrastructure along with all the social and aesthetic values it produces in place of big underground pipes to move and treat stormwater.

Montgomery County has a chance to put together the best of DC and Prince George’s initiatives.  Build a program where the private sector takes the risk of failure and has incentives to exceed performance goals or deliver projects more quickly, like DC, but also add in social goals around workforce development, local training and environmental justice, like Prince George’s county.  In just a few years, instead of having a program that is over-budget and behind schedule, maybe we too would be getting national awards and would have stronger evidence that we are doing our part for Chesapeake Bay.

Timothy Male is the Executive Director of the Environmental Policy Innovation Center and a former Takoma Park City Councilmember.