Baltimore Field Station

Revitalization of Watershed 263

[image:] Flowchart represents dynamic feedbacks between decision-making and scienceWatershed 263 (WS263) is one of Baltimore’s 355 major storm sewer watersheds that drains to Baltimore Harbor and the Chesapeake Bay. It covers all or parts of 11 neighborhoods. In 2010, the watershed was home to 28,214 people, a decline from 31,644 in 2000 and 40,651 in 1990 (US Census Bureau 2010). The area included in the WS263 project is entirely urbanized; over 60% of the area in the watershed is impervious surface with residential, commercial, industrial, institutional, and open space uses as well as 2000 vacant or abandoned residential properties, about half of which are city-owned. Public open space, including schools and parks, accounts for about 30% of the watershed land area and is unevenly distributed. WS263 has 19% grass cover and only 5.9% tree canopy cover, as compared to 27% tree canopy cover city-wide.


The research project focused on revitalizing urban communities using interventions that improve both water quality and quality of life at lower costs than traditional engineering practices for stormwater management structures, which are often hidden underground and provide no other additional benefits to local residents. The original idea for the WS263 project came from the Baltimore City Department of Public Works (DPW) as a way to meet the requirements of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES), a program that aims to control water pollution by regulating point and non-point sources that discharge pollutants into US waters.


Older, economically troubled urban neighborhoods present multiple challenges to environmental quality. For example, water-quality improvements in a Baltimore intiative were rooted in a socioecological framework that highlighted the interactions between biogeophysical dynamics and social actors and institutions. This framework led to implementation of best management practices followed by assessment of changes in human perception, behavior, and education programs. Results suggest that such an initiative can improve both water quality (e.g., reductions in nitrogen and phosphorus runoff) and quality of life (e.g., increased involvement in outdoor recreation by residents and improvements in student environmental literacy and performance) in urban neighborhoods. However, proposed solutions to the water-quality problems in such neighborhoods have 1) typically emphasized the need for stormwater facilities that are difficult to build and maintain and 2) comprehensively addressed neither the issues related to aging infrastructure and hydrologic complexity nor the benefits derived from linkages between resident perception of environmental improvements and behavior and water-quality outcomes.


Sampling baseflow and stormwater runoff in WS263 revealed several potentially important implications for watershed restoration efforts. First, the underground, or “buried stream,” baseflow loads can be substantial, even relative to the surface urban runoff loads in highly impervious urban catchments. Second, the large pollutant load exports from these residential catchments suggest that older, highly urban landscapes may be important hotspots, as these small headwater catchments are numerous in the urban landscape. Third, the complex nature of the pollutant export patterns at the two measured catchments, both spatially and temporally, suggest that there may be complex drivers involved. Since this complexity may involve one or more systems of urban water networks, conceptualization in terms of the Urban Watershed Continuum may be a useful tool to use both in their characterization and in designing interventions. Lastly, if these small headwater catchments truly represent a larger typology in terms of being hotspots, the characterization and mapping of older ultra-urban catchments may well be worthwhile given the large numbers of potential analogues in the urban landscape and the likely increasing role of aging infrastructure in creating more and larger “unseen” pollutant loads.


Data & Publications

Publications are listed in reverse chronological order.
All data associated with this research is archived on the BES website.


Hager, Guy W; Belt, Kenneth T.; Stack, William; Burgess, Kimberly; Grove, J. Morgan; Caplan, Bess; Hardcastle, Mary; Shelley, Desiree; Pickett, Steward T.A.; Groffman, Peter M. 2013. Socioecological revitalization of an urban watershed. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. 11(1): 28-36.

Belt, Kenneth T.; Stack, William P.; Pouyat, Richard V.; Burgess, Kimberly; Groffman, Peter M.; Frost, William M.; Kaushal, Sujay S.; Hager, Guy. 2012. Ultra-urban baseflow and stormflow concentrations and fluxes in a watershed undergoing restoration (WS263). In: Proceedings of the Water Environment Federation, Stormwater 2012. 2012(5): 262-276.


Last Modified: December 3, 2019