Columbia, Maryland – My favorite place is the lake that greets my eyes every morning as I get out of bed. Yes, I am lucky enough to live on Lake Elkhorn in Columbia, Maryland.
Eight years ago I got tired of seeing the lake path mowed while little else was done to restore and protect the lake itself. Over the years it had silted in and was clogged with grasses fed from the fertilizer washing off our lawns. On walks around the lake I found that other people shared my concern, so one evening eight people gathered around our dining room table and formed a group we called CLEER, the Committee for Lake Elkhorn’s Environmental Restoration.
Here’s what we did. We went to meetings of each board in the ten villages that make up our town of Columbia and showed them photos of the problems we were seeing. We set up a table on the main dock of our lake one Saturday and signed people up for our “virtual community”. We connected with leaders in Reston, VA, a planned city similar to ours except that it had an active enviromental program. We testified at Columbia Association Board of Directors’ meetings (made up of a member from each village board), describing the lake’s condition and requesting a management plan to fix the problems and avoid them in the future. We had figures from Reston showing how many millions of dollars less than Columbia they spent on dredging their lakes because of their program of preventive maintenance. That did it! The Board voted a significant sum for the formation of a plan not only for Lake Elkhorn, but for all of Columbia. The Columbia Watershed Management Plan was developed by a consulting firm and adopted two years after CLEER’s formation.
We again had to lobby to secure a full-time Watershed Manager, but by then the Board knew us and were readily convinced. The Watershed Manager has overseen the construction of dozens of rain gardens, the planting of trees, and bioretention facilities and other retrofits to manage stormwater runoff as specified under the Management Plan.
One big reason for our success, I think, was that from the beginning we viewed and treated our listeners as potential colleagues rather than mistrusted opponents. No chips on our shoulders got between them and us.
A corporation such as the homeowners association that manages Columbia is a big ship to turn around, so our work is not over. We work closely with our Watershed Manager and keep in contact with our 200 members by email to inform them of good practices and relevant events. We celebrate the signs of progress even as we work to speed up that progress. There is more to do and we plan to be a vital part of making it happen.
You can make a difference too!
This is a fabulous story. Thank you Elaine Pardoe for walking us through the steps so clearly of what you did and why it worked. Outrage and “greener than thou” typically does not work well, but appealing to legitimate interests and consensus building does work. Congratulations, I know there’s lots left to do, and thanks for the inspiration in your story.
The progress at Lake Elkhorn has been the result of a lot of effort from a wide range of people. CLEER has been significant in getting the ball rolling and staying on top of things on a daily basis. The Columbia Association has implemented a range of new projects. The State and County have stepped up to fund many new projects as well and are implementing a storm water utiity to continue the effort. Homeowners will have to get engaged to make a big difference in the future of the Lake and install their own rain gardens,