Creative Innovation

By Will Baker, CBF President

One hallmark of CBF is that we never slow down. That’s what gets me up each and every day with excitement and enthusiasm to work with such a talented staff who never, ever, rest on their laurels. With all the good news on the Bay’s improving condition, one might think a little pause would be acceptable. Time to catch our breath, right? Not a chance!

So for me, nothing is more stimulating than walking into a staff briefing to learn what’s new. Here is just one creative innovation being pursued for 2017, our 50th year.

A failing sewer in Baltimore. Courtesy Blue Water Baltimore.

Bay Infrastructure Investing, with Innovation!

We have all heard a lot about the need to invest in infrastructure. Every business leader knows how wise this is. Now, there is a lot of political talk about infrastructure investments as well. That’s good.

In many of the Bay’s cities — from Binghamton to Norfolk — a crumbling network of ancient pipes is discharging raw sewage to our creeks, rivers, the Bay. Sewage even backs up onto our streets. The most modern sewage plants can’t help if the waste never gets there.

Here are the basics. Deteriorating sewage pipes not only leak out, they leak in as well. Heavy rains combined with old manhole covers and backed up storm drains, contribute far more volume in sewage systems. In a vicious cycle, the over loaded pipes spring more leaks, releasing more waste to foul local waters.

Certainly repairs are needed, and the new emphasis on infrastructure investing is welcome. But if alternative solutions, at lower cost, can be found, money will be saved and the disruptions of construction reduced.

Greening our communities provides immediate relief to leaking pipes, and it also reduces the most intractable source of pollution.

Innovation can help through what is being called “green” infrastructure — planting trees and restoring wetlands for example. There are multiple benefits. Greening our communities provides immediate relief to leaking pipes, and it also reduces the most intractable source of pollution — heavily contaminated stormwater runoff from urban and suburban streets and parking lots. Urban greening also improves air quality, reduces temperature spikes, mitigates flooding, and simply makes our communities more livable and beautiful.

Living shorelines help alleviate polluted runoff and mitigate flooding. Photo by Beth LeFebvre/CBF Staff.

And it creates jobs!

Finally, one last bit of good news! Innovation extends beyond the environmental and community benefits. With financial innovation, the taxpayer benefits. Using Environmental Impact Bonds, we can take the burden off traditional revenue sources. Sounds like pie-in-the-sky idealism? No. It is already being used. One of the largest pilot programs to date, launched by DC Water with $25 million in tax-exempt bond financing, will help address a two billion gallon annual sewage discharge problem in our nation’s capital. It won the The Bond Buyer’s 2016 Deal of the Year in Non-Traditional Financing.

So stay tuned! Next year promises to be full of challenges, yes, but one in which CBF will use every possible innovation to drive Bay, river, and creek improvements further. What a great way to cap our first 50 years and launch the next.

This story was originally published in the the winter 2016 issue of Save the Bay Magazine.