Maryland forges Public/Private partnership for Smart Ponds to help protect the Chesapeake Bay

News Release, Maryland Department of Transportation

Hogan administration leads the government, business coalition to establish an innovative credit program 

(ANNAPOLIS, MD)  – In a program that could serve as a national model of environmental stewardship, Hogan administration cabinet secretaries from the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) and the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) joined today with state, federal, business and conservation advocates to unveil a public-private partnership benefiting the Chesapeake Bay through advanced stormwater control technology that can help reduce pollutants and curb local flooding.

As part of an agreement with Maryland Environmental Service (MES), MDOT will contribute $4 million to facilitate the installation of “smart pond” technology in 2020 at existing stormwater management sites on four Walmart properties and another privately-owned land. The partnership is the first of its kind in the nation involving a state transportation department.

“This program reflects MDOT’s commitment to be responsible stewards of the environment and our mission to explore partnerships and innovation to make our communities better,” said MDOT Secretary Pete K. Rahn during a press conference at the Walmart Superstore in Fruitland – one of the sites that will receive the smart pond technology.

MDOT Secretary Rahn and MDE Secretary Ben Grumbles announced the partnership with officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region III, Walmart, and TNC/Opti Development Partners LLC – a joint venture formed by The Nature Conservancy and Opti that will oversee installation and operation of the smart pond technology.

“This innovative public-private partnership shows that public entities, partnering with businesses and nonprofits, can drive real environmental progress at a lower cost,” said MDE Secretary Grumbles. “These investments in stormwater infrastructure are investments in flood resiliency, in ecosystem restoration and in the communities where we live.”

An innovative model for the nation

Effectively managing pollution from stormwater runoff can result in nationwide environmental benefits. The smart pond partnership between EPA, Maryland, and Walmart could serve as a model to be replicated elsewhere in the mid-Atlantic and across the country.

“Assisting our partners in controlling stormwater runoff is a priority for EPA,” said EPA Mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator Cosmo Servidio. “Using smart ponds is an innovative solution to sustainably manage stormwater and protect water quality in water bodies used for recreation and drinking water.”

Developed by Opti, smart pond technology improves stormwater pond operations using sensors and software to monitor real-time conditions such as water level and storage volume. The system uses internet-based forecasts to remotely operate valves that control the timing and volume of water discharge. Longer retention time increases water quality by capturing more sediment and nutrients. When rain is forecast, the system can automatically open valves to drain the pond prior to precipitation. This helps maximize storage efficiency and can reduce downstream flooding. The system also can be operated manually from any internet-connected device. System data can help prioritize maintenance needs.

The Walmart sites receiving smart pond technology through the partnership are:

  • Walmart Supercenter Fruitland, 409 N. Fruitland Blvd., Fruitland;
  • Walmart Supercenter Aberdeen, 645 S Philadelphia Blvd, Aberdeen;
  • Walmart Supercenter North East, 75 North East Plaza, North East;
  • Sam’s Club Hagerstown, 1700 Wesel Blvd., Hagerstown.

“Walmart is extremely proud to be part of this innovative pilot project,” said Rich Dailey, senior director of Environmental, Health and Safety Compliance for Walmart. “This public and private partnership, using Walmart assets, will begin to help solve the problems posed by non-point source runoff – the biggest cause of water pollution in our country today.”

Walmart’s Fruitland location is along US 13, where some communities have experienced issues with localized flooding. MDOT State Highway Administration (MDOT SHA) has six projects along US 13 to address flooding issues in the Salisbury area. Over the summer, MDOT SHA began a $7.5 million project to upgrade stormwater systems on US 13 Business near Salisbury University, just north of the Fruitland Walmart Supercenter.

‘Smart’ way to protect the Chesapeake Bay

Smart ponds are among the strategies to support the protection and restoration of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The MDOT public-private partnership complements other initiatives to plan, design, and implement water quality improvement strategies to meet the EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) requirements for the year 2025. According to EPA, there are 65,000 privately held stormwater management ponds in the Chesapeake Bay watershed alone, including 18,500 in Maryland.

A contract between MES and TNC/Opti to retrofit the ponds as smart ponds were finalized on July 8. MDOT’s payment of $4 million will purchase 100 acres worth of Chesapeake Bay impervious area treatment credits generated by the smart ponds at Walmart and additional locations that are still being finalized. The technology will be installed at the four Walmart ponds between summer and fall 2020. After MES certification of the credits, MDOT will begin purchasing the credits in fall 2020.

“This is an exciting opportunity to demonstrate how private-public partnerships can be used to advance long-term environmental preservation goals, and in particular to help protect the Chesapeake Bay,” said Roy McGrath, director, and CEO of MES. “MES is excited to put its organizational skill and expertise in service of this groundbreaking project.”

The credits will help MDOT SHA satisfy compliance goals set by MDE to treat stormwater runoff from 4,621 acres of impervious area by October 2020. As of July 1, MDOT SHA had treated 3,472 acres or 75% of that requirement.

The smart pond partnership represents the first time a state department of transportation is purchasing credits from a Water Quality Trading Program. MDE established Maryland’s program, creating a water quality marketplace for credits generated by pollutant reductions elsewhere in Maryland’s portion of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. This market-based approach offers economic incentives for pollutant reductions.

Lower cost compared to traditional stormwater mitigation

The cost to MDOT for these new credits is about $37,500 per acre, including installation of smart pond technology and 20 years of monitoring, inspecting, operating and maintaining the ponds by TNC/Opti. That’s significantly less than the average construction cost of $150,000 per impervious acre treated through stormwater devices such as swales, Bioretention cells, and stormwater ponds – and that $150,000 cost does not include operation and maintenance. MDOT owns about 800 ponds that could benefit from the smart pond technology. 

“Opti is proud to participate in this critical partnership with Walmart, TNC, and the State of Maryland,” said David Rubinstein, Opti’s Chief Executive Officer. “Opti’s water quality solutions help governments greatly improve environmental outcomes, quickly and with tremendous economic savings. These outcomes are made possible by coordinated public-private efforts. Utilizing smart technology and partnerships with a private landowner Walmart, who is committed to improving the environment, and TNC, who is dedicated to supporting cost-effective and innovative methods to dramatically improve our environment, we together are focused on a better world for everyone.” 

The Nature Conservancy brings decades of experience managing land and stewarding long-standing partnerships in the Chesapeake Bay watershed to the project, as well as providing financing to the joint venture alongside other financial institutions. The Conservancy expressed hope that the innovative approach to address runoff pollution will be an example for others, and is already in conversations with internal colleagues across the country to implement it further.

“We need innovative new ideas and partnerships to address stormwater pollution – the fastest-growing source of freshwater pollution worldwide,” said Mark Bryer, director of the Conservancy’s Chesapeake Bay Program. “This project is a perfect example of what the Chesapeake Bay needs: public and private sectors working together to harness technologies that deliver low-cost solutions to water pollution that can be replicated across the Bay watershed and beyond.”

Check out the visuals from our event:

Smart Pond Public-Private Partnership Chesapeake Bay Watershed

Smart Pond Public-Private Partnership Timeline

Before and After Smart Pond Installation

Smart Ponds Partnership Explained


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