CHESTERTOWN - "It makes a lot of sense," Congressman Andy Harris said.
Harris, R-Md-1st, was talking about Sam Owings' high impact environmental installation on Hambleton Creek Farms on Church Hill Road, a short distance from Chestertown.
Owings' installation is a series of shallow basins along a natural drainage channel. The basins are designed to slow down stormwater runoff so it drops its load of silt and nutrients before entering the nearby creek, and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay.
Owings created the system in 2011, and has been working to create interest in it ever since.
"It's cost-effective and simple," he told Harris.
In a printed handout, Owings listed the advantages of the basin system over other programs to handle runoff. They use little or no tillable land; they trap the sediment and nutrients, which can be dug out and used or sold as topsoil; they create wildlife habitat, and any farmer can easily create his own system with equipment he already owns. He also gave Harris a printout of a U.S. Geological Survey "fact sheet" on the dams along the Susquehanna River, which is the major freshwater feed source of the Bay.
After going over the general idea of the installation, Owings took Harris out to his fields to see the system installed in 2011, and "Phase 2," a second series of basins on another part of the farm. In the older basins, natural vegetation had taken root, and there were shallow puddles remaining from recent rains. Asked about mosquito control, Owings said that the basins quickly dry up in summer weather. The sediment is deposited on the bottom, filtering the water before it continues downhill to the creek.
On one of the new basins, the curlex blanket laid down to control erosion until grass seed takes root was still visible. "The only materials I used were grass seed, curlex and some fertilizer," Owings said. A short distance away, mounds of soil removed to create the new basins were visible.
Harris asked Owings what kind of help he needed to take "the next step" with his program.
Owings said that he has had trouble getting governmental agencies to take his installation seriously.
"Environmentalists don't like it," he said.
He told Harris that a group of engineers from the Maryland Department of Agriculture had looked at the installation and told him it could only handle 0.1 inch of rain. "That's barely enough to settle the dust on a dry day," Owings said. He added that in his experience, a 2-inch rainfall over a 10- to 12-hour period heavy rain for these parts is enough to fill the first in the series of four basins.
He also said that while the Department of Natural Resources lists "excavated pond" as a project eligible for sharing costs, he was told his project doesn't qualify presumably because it consists of a series of basins rather than a single pond.
Owings told Harris he has applied for a research grant that would help underwrite his program, but that he needs $10,000 in matching funds and $30,000 of in-kind match. He said that he has interest from University of Maryland researchers who could help conduct the study. Harris said that he would try to get the relevant state agricultural and environmental officials to come see the installation.
Accompanying Harris on the visit were his chief of staff, Kevin Reigrut, and former delegate Dick Sossi, his Upper Shore liaison.