Speaker Info

Emily Majcher
Maryland Delaware DC Water Science Center

Email: emajcher@usgs.gov


Emily Majcher is a hydrologist with the Maryland Delaware DC Water Science Center in Baltimore, Maryland.  She is a registered professional engineer with the state of Maryland and has 15 years experience investigating the nature and extent of contamination in groundwater, soil, surface water, and wetland environments and in developing innovative, green remedial strategies for contaminated sites.  She currently serves as the chairperson of the Baltimore Urban Waters Partnership Monitoring, Modeling, and Research work group and is working on urban water quality assessments through the Partnership.

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Seminar Abstract

The National Urban Waters Federal Partnership is comprised of 13 Federal Departments, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and U.S. Department of the Interior, among others. The Urban Waters Federal Partnership, formally launched in Baltimore in 2011, was developed to reconnect economically underserved urban communities with their waterways by improving coordination among federal agencies and organizations at all levels of government. The USDA Forest Service is the lead agency on the Baltimore Urban Waters Federal Partnership (BUWP). The BUWP has organized with many local agencies and organizations to develop plans and strategic actions in four topical areas with subcommittees for each over the last five years: (1) Local restoration and best management projects, (2) Spatial mapping information and tools, (3) The Green Pattern Book, and (4) Monitoring, modeling, and research. The goals of the Monitoring, Modeling, and Research topic subcommittee are to enhance communication between partners on monitoring needs, and provide technical leadership on water-related issues such as improved water quality, flood hazards, and water supply in urban areas. The subcommittee has hosted two workshops (summer 2014, late winter 2016) for the water monitoring community that inventoried monitoring assets in the Baltimore region and identified data gaps and provided recommendations for follow up. From these recommendations, a collaborative retrospective trends analysis project was proposed and funded to specifically address some of the high priority data gaps identified during the 2014 workshop. The 2016 workshop was organized to provide a feedback loop from researchers to practitioners in specific areas of interest identified via surveys of the attendants, and also to allow for feedback from jurisdictions to researchers and practitioners to identify areas of need and possible collaboration.

Seminar Transcript

>> So I just wanted to start by acknowledging the other folks on this partnership. The groups that are shown are really the partners that have been integral in the Monitoring, Modeling and Research Steering Committee. And that's the Forest Service Northeast Research Station, which is just across the street here at UMBC. A couple of NGOs that are working in Baltimore, Blue Water Baltimore, and Parks & People Foundation. And then representatives from some of the local jurisdictions; the city DPW, Baltimore County and Howard County. And then some researchers from the Baltimore Ecosystem Study, which is if you're not familiar with, is a national science foundation, long-term ecological research project that has been ongoing in Baltimore since about 1998. So I'm just going to touch on, in case-- I'm not sure how familiar this group is with what the Urban Waters Partnership, Federal Partnership is. I'm just going to touch on that a little bit, to have a little bit of background. And then how the Baltimore Pilot, which has now sort of become a program, fits into that, give a little more detailed background on the Baltimore partnership and our monitoring committee, and talk a little bit about two workshops that we have hosted, that the steering committee has hosted. And then finally give an example of a collaborative project that has evolved out of the outcomes of these workshops. So in 2011, this Urban Waters Federal Partnership was launched. It's a program that is essentially a consortium of federal agencies. So Department of Interior, EPA, HUD, USDA, many others. But there is no funding associated with this program. So the idea is really to allow federal agencies to be able to work with communities and leverage resources, capitalize on existing programs that are there, facilitate, provide technical leadership, those sorts of things. And the overall goal or the vision is really to protect and restore urban waters by reconnecting communities; most of the time, underserved, underprivileged communities with urban waterways. And so while there is this national partnership, a lot of the pilots, there were originally seven pilots, Baltimore was one of them, it has grown to 19 locations currently. But they all kind of-- there are some general guidance, strategic guidance from EPA. They all sort of have their own flavor and take on, depending on which federal agency is the lead in that particular region, so they're all a little bit different. And they have links to other urban programs that are already embedded in these federal agencies. So the Baltimore partnership is one of the original seven pilots. It is primarily led by the Forest Service, although USGS Department of Interior, as well as the Baltimore city folks have really been instrumental, and with the partnership since the beginning. And, in general, the idea is really just to facilitate the goals of the federal partnership. And over the five years that the Baltimore partnership has been working, this is sort of the strategic framework that has evolved. And so there's four main pillars or educational work groups that meet independently. The larger partnership meets quarterly. It's a pretty large, diverse group of people. Everything from like interfaced Partners of the Chesapeake and fake organizations trying to plant trees on land to, you know, folks that are taking intercity youth out in the harbor in canoe trips to monitoring for bacteria using molecular probes. I mean, it's really the full spectrum of what's going on. And so independently then, these four groups meet separately to sort of dive into the weeds on some of their own things. Just a quick overview so that the Green Pattern Book is really a policy document. The city has adopted it. It's really sort of a blueprint to take vacant lands in the city and convert them to community managed open space or green infrastructure projects, those sorts of things. They're looking to expand that beyond Baltimore right now to other, applicable to other cities. The mapping group has really been primarily out of University of Baltimore and the Jacob Frank Institute looking at vital statistics, looking at everything from income to crime rates to different things like that, information that has been incorporated from some of the Forest Service surveys that they have done, as well as incorporating community-managed open space and [inaudible] projects. So it's called the Green Pattern Registry. And local projects was kind of this catch-all for all the other, you know, grant funded projects that were sort of going on that were related to the partnership, a really diverse group of different things. And then the monitoring, modeling and research group was really envisioned to support these other pillars. Really from a quantitative perspective of, you know, we're making all these actions and management decisions and implementing green infrastructure, but are we able to see any impacts from those different things? And so currently, the partnership as a whole is going under sort of a strategic realignment. The leadership and the partnership has really felt like we've sort of outgrown the boxes in that previous slide. And so we don't have a new diagram to show just yet. This is just currently undergoing. But I thought it was helpful to point out a few things that is sort of a move I think in a good direction for the partnership. I think while the monitoring group that I've largely been a part of has been regional in the sense of the city, but also the surrounding counties, the other groups have really been pretty city-centric. And so the idea, the partnership, like I said, people from the other surrounding counties that regularly participate and really looking to expand to a more regional vision. And along those lines, sort of following up on this green corridor idea that what's going up on in the, you know, suburban areas is impacting what's coming down through the urban areas and eventually into the harbor or the Patapsco River, and so we really need to be thinking about these things more from a watershed basis and not jurisdictions and those boundaries. And with a focus on trying to facilitate a stronger connection between research and largely some of the work that BES is doing, but also USGS and others in this area to facilitate a connection to the policy and decision making, I think our monitoring group is going to be encompassed by an actionable science group in the not-too-distant future. So as I said, I have been, since about early 2014, working on the monitoring, modeling and research group. And the next couple of slides aren't necessarily linear. These goals kind of evolved out of our workshop. But I think it's important to sort of set the stage for these in sort of what this committee is doing. And, you know, certainly while we have broader goals to think about in supporting the other work groups and areas of flood control and resiliency and things like that, the focus over the near term has really been sort of two-pronged. And looking at a data assessment component in terms of optimizing the monitoring that's going on in the region, looking for efficiencies, but also looking for ways to better assess the progress towards these water quality goals that everyone has. As I'll talk about in the outcomes from the workshops, we had a lot of folks saying that, you know, there's a lot of boxes being checked. They have to check all these boxes for MS4 and all of these compliance requirements, but nobody is really assessing or looking for what the stories of that data tell at all. And the second and probably more important, as our group has really been trying to facilitate communication between the stakeholders, the decision makers that have these mandates, and then the research folks that can hopefully maybe do some of those assessments that they can't do or don't have time to do or the resources to do. But then also sort of have the other side of that feedback loop of having those stakeholders voice what their data gaps are and recommendations for really what they're struggling with and allowing then us as the scientific community be able to then maybe focus on some of those items for them. So in the summer of 2014, we held an initial monitoring workshop. We sort of had a similar approach, it sounds like, to what you guys did. We had, you know, first main goal of that workshop really was to inventory what everyone was doing, having everyone in the same room, which was very much appreciated by the group. And then as a follow-on to that, we had breakout sessions for particular specific topics, but really with the intent to initiate a discussion about, you know, can we somehow integrate what everyone is doing regionally into sort of a network or a network of networks, if not one, to really start to get at these assessments that aren't able to do, to look at trends and to tease out some of the stories that are in the data. And the outcome from that workshop really kept us very busy. Meeting as a group and following up on some of those topics led to having a 2016, we actually just had at the beginning of March, and it was a little bit different in nature, really more focused on this idea of this feedback loop of providing-- we conducted a survey of the folks that had come to our original meeting, asking, you know, some very pointed questions about what, in terms of water quality, they were interested in hearing about, where their gaps were in terms of TNBO compliance monitoring and some other things. And so we had a series of three sessions of keeping the group all together this time with a couple of talks from experts or researchers, and then allowing some time for discussion. And again, with the intent of hopefully encouraging collaboration, that if we could identify where the gaps are or maybe some things that need to be looked at, we could come up with some collaborative partnerships to attack some of those. This is just a summary of who came. And basically, a representative from all of the local jurisdictions attended both of these workshops. So some representatives from the city and all the surrounding regional counties, many NGOs that are working actively in monitoring and implementation of green infrastructure in the region, academic and research folks that were mostly giving presentations. And then in 2016, we had actually opened that up also to some practitioners that were doing work as well with a lot of the jurisdictions. And then representatives from state and federal government agencies. So I just wanted to highlight a couple of the stakeholder messages from the different workshops that we held. We sort of asked that same, you know, wish list question. If you could do monitoring with nothing preventing you, you know, money and everything else, what would you do? And these were kind of the things that resonated the most and sort of guided then goals and things that we followed up on as a committee moving forward. So there was a call for increased water quality monitoring, particularly at existing flow stations. An expansion with the bacteria analysis, because many of these jurisdictions have bacteria [inaudible]. Better defined protocols. I saw that on one of your things from the workshop in April, particularly from a pre and post restoration consideration point. And again, I think the biggest thing that resonated was more interpretation of the data and what does it really tell us or what does it mean? We also had a call for more citizen-engaged monitoring, more involvement from NGOs. The eternal we need a database to put all of this in. It came up at ours too. That was really critical. I'm really hoping that our folks are going to use the DNR portal for this, because they're already submitting it all to NBE anyway, most of the stuff that this water quality compliance stuff for MS4. And so hopefully that will, you know, serve as that, fulfill that need. And then to continue the call for continued and expanded collaboration across the different practices. This sits down a little bit more in the weeds. I just wanted to put this up there to show that, you know, we did compile and draft a workshop report that is available through the Baltimore Urban Waters Partnership website, and it really outlines what we identified or what the different groups identified as data gaps and recommendations in these three more specific areas. And as a steering committee, we have only really focused in on that first one of tracking watershed level improvements to water quality. That sort of resonated as the most critical to them in terms of fulfilling their compliance and mandated monitoring issues. But we certainly have many others to follow up on as were outlined. So we just held our follow-up workshop in 2016 in March. I haven't done the workshop report for this one, so I don't have my thoughts as consolidated with that one. But just a few takeaways that I think were important to note. You know, I think there was general consensus that there are gaps in monitoring for some of the more non-traditional, you know, not the Bay program TMDL requirements, but more of their local ones of, you know, not just complying and implementing some sort of BMP, but, you know, really how they're looking for where these even are and defining them. And so we had some discussions and presentations on innovative samplers and different molecular tools. But I think we need to actually get out with these jurisdictions and demonstrate some of these. There is a lot of interest in the emerging contaminants area. We talked about that a lot. And particularly, its effect on stream biology. Honestly, I was a little bit surprised at how open the jurisdictions were to, you know, wanting to look for these and follow up on this. So some of this work was already going on with the BES project. But I think there's definitely room to expand, and I think MDE was suggesting that on some of them that we were talking about, the regulations are likely coming sooner rather than later. We had some good examples and definitely talked about the need to come up with innovative ways to approach these partnerships to fund some of these data gaps. Like we can come up with the gaps, and as the scientists and the steering committee, we can formulate those into assessment questions, but actually finding the ways to then go after solving some of these things is a little bit maybe the bigger challenge. And then we talked about really following up, and I think you guys mentioned this too, you know, this was sort of all over the board, because we were looking at TMDL monitoring to evaluating outreach and education projects to tools for assessing success of BMP, and that really now we have to have follow-up workshop, follow-up meetings, shorter, more targeted meetings to really get down in the weeds of how to go about approaching some of these things. So really quickly, I just wanted to highlight something that I think is a good example of a success that has come from this partnership, and our committee particularly, and how it evolved out of sort of the voice of concerns that came up from the stakeholders and how we went about trying to approach this. So USGS, our office here, and the Cary Institute for Ecosystem Studies, which is the BES lead, and an NGO in the system, Blue Water Baltimore, we put together proposals to respond to some of the data gaps that emerged for tracking watershed level improvements to water quality, which were in the 2014 workshop. And basically, the project that we have acquired funding from, a private foundation in the city to initiate the project, we're still waiting, they're delayed, the EPA Urban Waters Small Grants stuff is delayed right now, so we're still waiting to hear about the remaining amount of funding that we need. But basically, we're looking at a retrospective trends analysis. So the Gwynns Falls Watershed in Baltimore County, in Baltimore City is really data dense watershed because it has been the watershed of focus for BES since '98. So we have this huge amount of data, and a lot more data than are available in really any other watershed in the region. And so we said, well, can we look at-- that looking at some of these issues in Gwynns Falls of things that haven't been looked at before. So the project that we're undertaking is to look at long-term trends in the water quality, which is nothing earth-shattering or new. But what we do think is new and will be really helpful in terms of decision-making and outcomes is looking at which factors, both human and natural factors, may be driving these trends. So we have a data set that will allow us to do some complex trends analysis and modeling to look at the controls there. And BES hasn't previously looked at some of the subwatersheds, where a lot of the BMPs have been implemented. And so ideally, we're hoping to see, you know, really what impact are these BMPs having to water quality as a whole? You know, it's difficult, you know, with changing land use was mentioned, and then, you know, climate change, you know? It's easy to hold up like Healthy Harbors trends, it's like if you have a really dry year, oh, look, everything's dropping. Then, you know, so we're hoping to be able to tease some of that out with this study. It's sort of three-pronged. We're convening a stakeholder meeting to prioritize which factors we should be focusing on. And then we'll actually do the analysis and then come out with a series of publications that are geared to different audiences, including the communities that are living there. So just a good example of something that has come out. So I think with that, I know I'm over time, so I'll stop. Thanks. [ Applause ]

Seminar Discussion

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