South Bethany gives green light to green agenda

South Bethany has big green plans for 2009. Their Water Quality Committee, chaired by Councilman Jay Headman, is tasked with four main environmentally-focused objectives: educating the community about stormwater management and water quality, working with state and federal governments, reviewing current ordinances and creating new ones when necessary, and working closely with the Center for Inland Bays – all with the main vision of maintaining high quality water in the inland bays watershed and beyond.

“We look at what we have regarding boats, and boat maintenance to downspouts and rainwater. Currently we are working with DelDOT and DNREC to address the stormwater issue, especially off of Route 1,” said Headman.

Headman said it is especially important to control the first half-inch of rainwater, so it can slowly permeate the soil before heading into the canals, bays and eventually the ocean. He said that stormwater from roadside drainage pipes directly north of South Bethany, in Sea Colony, Middlesex Beach and northern parts of South Bethany, go right into a pipe and then directly into South Bethany’s canals, bringing with the stormwater excess nutrients.

Some nutrients are necessary for aquatic life, but excessive amounts of nitrates and phosphorous, which many of the inland bays are struggling with, bring unwanted algae and literally cut off the oxygen in the water.

One of the projects the committee is working on is an assessment study of possibly retrofitting the pipe so it can be more effective at nutrient control. The town received a $35,000 matching grant to research the retrofitting of the pipe for stormwater management.

“Requests for proposals have gone out to bid on the project to look at retrofit strategies,” said Headman.

He said it is challenging to get the point across that rainwater is more a culprit than an ally in stormwater management.

“People think, ‘Rainwater – well, that’s clean,’” he said. “I used to think it was the greatest thing since sliced bread.”

But, he explained, the problem is that, because there are parking lots and driveways where there used to be trees or shrubs, water has less time to permeate into the soil, so it brings all the nutrients and all the pollutants that collect off of a roof or another impervious surface, such as asphalt, and goes straight into the waterways.

“All that stuff that’s sitting on your roof or other impervious surfaces washes right into the bodies of water, so it’s especially important to get that first half-inch,” he emphasized.

Because one of the committee’s objectives is to look at current ordinances and create new ones with the protection of the waterways in mind, they plan on introducing an ordinance regulating all new construction of houses along a body of water, requiring them to have gutters or downspouts, so as to not dump rainwater directly into the canals.

They also plan to have a workshop in February regarding a potential ordinance prohibiting impervious surface for new construction and driveway repairs of more than 50 percent.

“People will hear that and think, ‘Oh, I can’t have pavers,’ but you can,” explained Headman. He said the committee members have talked with two companies about permeable pavers and also talked with LEED and the National Home Builder’s Association regarding guidelines for permeable paving surfaces.

The new initiatives are only the latest in environmental activities in South Bethany.

The town also participates in the oyster gardening project headed up by the Center for Inland Bays – something in which neighboring Fenwick Island is also participating. They also boast more than 800 residents signed up for curbside recycling through the Delaware Solid Waste Authority. South Bethany is one of the few towns that put the cost of recycling directly into their property owners’ tax bills from the start – something that has proved a reliable incentive for getting people involved in the process.

“They figure, ‘I’m paying for it, I might as well do it,’” said Headman. He noted that they started with about 20 residents signed up and now have more than 800 homeowners on board.

The Water Quality Committee also has a subcommittee, the Canal Monitoring Committee. That committee checks seven sites in the canal periodically to research the quality of water. It gives both the town and the Center for Inland Bays a starting point for researching the effect of their hard work.

“It gives us a baseline of information, so we can continue to measure what we are doing to see if the things we are doing are having an impact,” Headman added.