Environmental Protection and Faith Go Together

This guest post from the National Fish & Wildlife Foundaton highlights our Blue Water Congretations program, a partnership effort to assist places of worship in stewarding their property.

NFWF4Spring is finally here, heralding those longed-for  April showers and May flowers, which this year are more than welcome after an especially harsh winter. In Maryland, rain showers are receiving more focus than usual due to the recent legislative discussion in the House on stormwater fees that are designed to help reduce polluted runoff into the Chesapeake Bay.

Churches in particular, which typically have large parking lots and expansive roofs, are finding themselves vulnerable and  have been unsure how best to handle the fees. They are taking a fresh look at what that means in terms of budgeting and perhaps more importantly in defining their role as good stewards of the environment.

Enter groups like Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake (IPC) and Blue Water Baltimore who have begun helping area congregations devise customized roadmaps to prioritize stormwater reduction. Remediation also helps them qualify for lesser fee obligations. Through its Blue Water Congregations program, Blue Water Baltimore additionally provides financial incentives to install stormwater management practices.

NFWF5Jodi Rose of IPC said that last year a pilot program was initiated to inform and support churches in addressing the fees. “The feedback showed there is a tremendous need for churches to have a technical ally. Congregations do not have money to pay for consulting fees,” she said. For the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to underwrite (NFWF provided $650,000 in grants) and provide assistance and support is huge.”

She adds, “so many have jumped on board. Faith communities are beginning to understand the issue of stormwater. It’s hard to understand that our neighborhoods designed and built previous decades do not make a lot of sense for the Bay.

One of IPC’s goals is to help congregations find the proper balance in approaching the conversation. “It shouldn’t be just about money and benefit and cost. There are other deeper factors that should be considered by all communities, by faith communities,” says Rose. “We believe we are called by our Creator to recognize how we are interconnected to each other. The way we treat our properties downstream of us is reflective of our commitment to creation and the love we have for each other.”

On a recent and very appropriately rainy Sunday afternoon, St. Matthew Catholic Church in Baltimore and IPC hosted a gathering for local churches to learn how to access help and get ideas to take back to their respective congregations.  St. Matthew’s has already installed rain barrels and landscaped a play area and beautiful rain garden that will soon be greening-up for all to enjoy.

 Ann Betten of the Jewish faith Chizuk Amuno Synagogue congregation was one of several people tapped last year to help discern the best approach to reducing their stormwater footprint. She says the congregation has a long history of caring about environmental protection, and making improvements like recycling whenever they can.

NFWF1So “when this opportunity to be folded into a pilot program last year with Interfaith Partners, Blue Water Baltimore and others came up, folks said ‘yes.’” She is emphatic when she adds “our primary motive is not about the fees. Why are we concerned? Just because it’s the right thing to do.”

Betten highly recommends the process.  “It was enlightening to hear comments from various organizations, to see how they dealt with similar problems and challenges. We benefitted from each other and also from the professionals that were brought in.” Their initial plan calls for planting trees, and putting in three bio-retention systems. “If we do all that,” she added, “we will go a long way to reducing our stormwater runoff.”

For those still wary of the fees, what people often don’t realize is that the fees are not meant to be punitive; rather they are a way of designating funding that will go specifically toward upgrading and improving antiquated stormwater drainage systems. This infrastructure is in dire need of repair.

NFWF2So often those upgrades have repeatedly been put on the back burner as other projects overshadowed this need, and the polluted stormwater continues to increasingly overwhelm our properties, streets, drainage infrastructure and ultimately the Bay.

Jodi Rose reiterates that she views the initiative as a wonderful opportunity in a broader sense. She says churches are “eager to carry their weight, with help. They are not for profit, but they are willing and interested in carrying their weight. They want to be relevant to what’s really happening in our world and society. It’s a great opportunity for them to be leaders. It says a lot about your respect for Creation.”

More events will be held in the future to help get the word out to congregations.   For more information and to enroll your house of worship in this program, visit www.interfaithchesapeake.org

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