Potomac Highlands Watershed School

Introduction to

Best Management Practices

Have you ever seen a river full of long green algae? Or looked back as you walked across a stream to see mud swirling up from the bottom? Or slipped because the river rocks are slimy. These are signs that nutrient and sediment pollution from human activities is reaching the stream.  Much of the pollution comes from stormwater runoff pollution.  This is the pollution picked up by rain and washed into a ditch, stormdrain, or creek.  Everyone has seen how creeks turn very brown when it rains.  That is sediment pollution, soil in the water.

The way we all live, and the way we use the land, can cause these and other kinds of problems.  A stream doesnít have to be unhealthy just because people live and work nearby.  Best Management Practices, also known as BMPs, are methods people use to prevent or reduce the pollution resulting from human activities.   The term originated from rules and regulation in Section 208 of the 1972 Clean Water Act. 

BMPs help reduce pollution from the sediment and nutrients that start in local streams, flow to larger rivers, and eventually harm the Chesapeake Bay.  There are many different kinds of BMPs, used to control different kinds of pollution arising from important human activities such as agriculture, forestry, home construction, and just daily life.   Our Stream Cleaner activity (on the chalkboard) includes five common BMPs that players use to clean up a virtual stream.  The Chesapeake Bay Program has a much longer list of BMPs for almost every situation.

Federal and state governments can do a lot but everyone can do their part to make our waters cleaner, both as individuals and in groups.  Capturing rainfall so it does not carry pollution to streams is what many BMPs are all about.  It doesn't have to be expensive or difficult.  There are many easily implementable BMPs.   For example, planting a single tree helps reduce stormwater runoff pollution because it can capture up to  three-quarters of the first inch of rainfall that falls on it.  A small rain garden reduces stormwater runoff and beautifies a landscape. 

Cacapon Institute works in the schools and with community groups to install BMPs to clean up local waters and to restore the Chesapeake Bay.  A few pictures of BMPs are below.  More can be found on our Hands-on Projects and Project CommuniTree webpages. :

 Rain Garden and Tree Planting

Wildwood Middle School, Shenandoah Junction, WV


Rain Barrels

Tomahawk Intermediate School, Hedgesville, WV


Tree Planting and other BMPs

Spring Mills Middle School, Spring Mills, WV

Tree Planting, Stormwater Pond Riparian Area

Jefferson High School, Jefferson County, WV

Jefferson High (Wildwood Middle since 2010) is working on their stormwater pond.  Stormwater ponds, and wetland areas at schools present opportunities to create wildlife habitat as well as stormwater runoff pollution reduction BMPs.

Green Roof Installation

Musselman High School, Inwood, WV

West Virginia Project CommuniTree (CTree) promotes tree planting and education on public land through volunteerism in the Potomac Headwaters of West Virginia (Berkeley, Grant, Hampshire, Hardy, Jefferson, Mineral, Morgan, & Pendleton counties).  The project is entirely volunteer based and engages stakeholders in the process of making priority decisions within their respective communities and offers a strong educational message along with a physical planting component.
There are many more of Cacapon Institute's Hands-on Projects Webpage and Project CommuniTree BMP projects to see. 

The Stream Cleaner BMP Toolkit

Stream Cleaner is an interactive program found on the blackboard in the eSchool's Middle and High school  classrooms.  In Stream Cleaner, a stream is polluted with excess nutrients (fertilizer) and sediment (dirt).  The user has access to a "tool kit" with five Best Management Practices they can use to reduce pollution (grass buffers, forested buffers, sediment ponds, nutrient management plans, and cover crops - some of the tools work for urban problems, some for farm problems, and some for both). 

Stream Cleaner Best Management Practice Toolkit

Cover Crop.  Grass can be used to hold soil and nutrients on agricultural land, construction sites, and bare ground so rainfall canít wash it away. So our tool kit includes planting grass on bare ground. When used on a farm itís called a Cover Crop, and is often used on cropland to keep the land from eroding over the winter months.

Grass Riparian Buffer.  By planting wide strips of grass and other non-woody vegetation along rivers and streams, and by allowing it to grow tall, we can filter nutrients, sediment and other pollutant from runoff. Thick vegetation slows the runoff water down, allowing some pollutants in the water to settle to the ground, and cleaner water to flow to the stream.

Forested Riparian Buffer.  By planting wide strips of trees along rivers and streams, we can filter nutrients, sediments and other pollutants from runoff as well as remove nutrients from groundwater. Thick vegetation and dead leaves slow the runoff water down, allowing some pollutants in the water to settle to the ground, and cleaner water to flow to the stream.   This planting was done by a community group along the Cacapon River in Hampshire County, WV.

Sediment Pond.  A sediment pond captures and temporarily stores stormwater runoff before allowing the water to either soak into the ground or flow slowly out toward our stream. Because the pond slows the water down, some of the pollutants in the water settle to the bottom of the pond and cleaner water can then flow out of the pond into the stream.

Nutrient and Waste Management Plan (NMP).  Some people use more fertilizer than they really need to grow the plants they planted, and the excess fertilizer can get carried into streams. Our last tool is called a Nutrient and Waste Management Plan (NMP).  A Nutrient Management Plan helps people use just the right amount of fertilizer. For a farmer, homeowner or a golf course manager, a NMP describes the optimum use of nutrients to both help plants to grow and also minimize fertilizer loss.

In a barnyard, a Waste Management Plan prevents the nutrients in concentrated animal wastes from running into a stream. This may involve relocating an animal feeding area away from a stream, or building a structure that contains the animal wastes.