Photo by Andrew Bossi on Flickr.

Runoff from storms can floods homeowners’ basements, erode property, and damage parks and public spaces. Prince George’s County is considering forward-thinking legislation that will strike a good balance between quality of life, density, and design in creating incentives for property owners to deal with stormwater.

Last Thursday. the Transportation, Housing, and Environment (THE) Committee of the Prince George’s County Council unanimously passed a Stormwater Management Retrofit Program. The bill still must be passed by the full Council, but that seems likely.

The proposed program would offer a rebate to individuals, businesses, or non-profits that install certain stormwater retrofits, such as rain barrels, pervious pavers, and rain gardens, on their property. Retrofits like these are win-win because in addition to reducing damaging stormwater runoff, they also create a more attractive property where more people want to shop, live, and work.

Similar, highly successful programs already exist in DC and Montgomery County, so this piece of legislation would keep Prince George’s competitive in the region.

Casey Trees found that “people are willing to travel farther, visit more frequently and pay more for goods and services in business districts with trees — on average 12 percent more.” A study in Philadelphia showed that improvements to streetscapes, such as street trees and other plantings, can increase home values by as much as 25%.

These programs are just as popular with the public as they are with policy wonks. DC’s RiverSmart Homes program has been so successful that homeowners now must wait 3 to 4 months after applying just for an initial audit.

Witnesses at the hearing did express concerns about maintenance of the projects and how low-income residents could overcome the upfront cost. Department of Environmental Resources (DER) director Sam Wynkoop suggested that the projects be subject to a permit or have maintenance agreements recorded in property records.

While these retrofits clearly work best when maintained, such requirements would be so burdensome that they would scare off property owners from even starting. A simple landowner maintenance agreement, that would be signed and kept on file by DER as a pre-condition for receipt of rebate funds, would be one effective tool to ensure that proper maintenance happens.

Because this is a rebate program, property owners will need to pay for the project installation out of pocket, and then be reimbursed. Councilmember Karen Toles expressed concern that this cost could be prohibitive for many low-income residents. However, resources to overcome this barrier already exist in the county; nonprofit organizations like the Watershed Stewards Academy could perform the work and receive the rebate directly.

The bill will go before the full council on July 24th and seems headed for passage. The evolving environmental leadership in Prince George’s bodes well for the county where much of our region’s development will occur over the next decade.