Watershed, flooding study not yet approved but options exist for stormwater control

 by Trish Rudder

A request for the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to analyze the Warm Springs watershed has not yet been approved, said Jim Michael of the Eastern Panhandle Conservation District (EPCD), who submitted the request in early October.

Pam Yost, watershed economist at the NRCS Morgantown office said on Monday they won’t know until March or April what the 2019 budget will be or if funding will be available for the analysis.

County and Town of Bath officials requested the analysis to help the community prevent future flooding.

Michael said on Monday that the NRCS office in Washington D.C. would have to approve the funding for the analysis and that probably won’t be approved until after January 1, 2019.

The last analysis was done by the NRCS in 1990.

In 2012, a comprehensive watershed-based management plan for Warm Springs Run was prepared by GeoConcepts Engineering and the Warm Springs Watershed Association. It suggested low impact development practices be used to control stormwater runoff by restoring the natural, pre-developed ability of an urban site to absorb stormwater.

Integrating small-scale measures throughout the development site would benefit the Warm Springs Run watershed. For example, rain gardens absorb and filter stormwater runoff. Other options are collecting roof runoff into rain barrels, which also help reduce flooding and erosion caused by stormwater runoff. Installing a “green roof,” which is a roof partially or completely covered with plants, which help mitigate the urban “heat island” effect and reduce peak stormwater flows. Installing permeable and porous pavements that reduce stormwater runoff by allowing water to soak through the paved surface into the ground beneath.

Grass swales are another way to slow stormwater runoff. These broad open channels sown with erosion resistant and flood tolerant grasses have been used alongside roadways for years.

Swales improve water quality and reduce in-stream erosion by slowing the stormwater runoff before it enters the stream. They also cost less to install than curbs, storm drain inlets and piping systems.

About five miles of impervious surfaces such as roads and parking lots with concentrated development are south of town. By removing tree cover and adding paving, the entire watershed was affected.

Widmyer Elementary School and Berkeley Springs High School used to have trees and shrubs planted along the Warm Springs Run. The run also meandered, which helped the flood waters to slow during a heavy rain event. Watershed association member Rebecca MacLeod said it was straightened some time ago and the trees and shrubs were removed. More soil erosion has occurred along its banks and causes an increase in sediment in the Run. It’s all connected: more sediment decreases the Run’s capacity to contain the water and it overflows and property is damaged, she said.

The Watershed Association and Morgan County Schools Superintendent Erich May are working together to make improvements along the banks of the Run at Widmyer and Berkeley Springs High School, Watershed association president Kate Lehman said.

The development of land east and south of the watershed causes sedimentation in the stream. Most of the residential growth has been in the eastern section of the watershed on shale soils. Once vegetation is removed, the soils contribute a lot of storm runoff.

Michael said recommendations made by the NRCS from the 1990 analysis were not enacted, and flooding events will continue in the community until low impact development practices are used to control stormwater runoff.

“I love the land and the water, and we have to take care of both,” Michael said.