Berlin Input Sought On River Restoration Project

BERLIN — An effort is underway to manage stormwater issues on the Pocomoke River watershed and the town of Berlin is being asked to become a partner.
Amy Jacobs, a representative of The Nature Conservancy, met with the Berlin Mayor and Council Monday to brief members on a project that would breech levees that currently hold in huge amounts of water after rain events, which can lead to flooding and runoff issues. The plan is to create passages through those embankments that will allow water to flow naturally into the Pocomoke area floodplains, which would better regulate the excess.
“So you can see when you have those floodplains there, when you get storms, you get little changes in the water levels in the channel,” said Jacobs. “Without them, you get a much more flashy system. And that can cause flooding, as we’ve seen recently with a lot of these events through there.”
Allowing that currently restricted water to flow into the floodplains helps it cycle, she explained. Excess water is absorbed through the floodplains and filtered naturally.
“They also cleanse the water so that when the water goes into these areas it gets captured there, and then through that process in the soil and the water it can remove a lot of the nutrients and absorb and retain a lot of the sediments as well,” Jacobs said.
Breeching the levees and letting the water spread out has a lot of benefits without much in the way of downsides, she continued. The project isn’t designed to hijack the floodplains from how they are currently used.
“It’s a way that we can get water quality benefits that’s really not infringing on the land use there currently,” said Jacobs. “Because most of these areas are forested, people often use them for hunting and recreation, and that can still be done.”
In meeting with the council Monday, Jacobs stressed that she wasn’t looking for an immediate commitment but only wanted to alert the town to the basics of the project. She noted that parts of the town of Berlin do impact the Pocomoke River watershed and she would like to bring the town onboard. It’s in everyone’s interests to stabilize any stormwater, runoff or flooding issues in the area, Jacobs said.
“It’s an area that I think has attracted a lot of people for eco-tourism reasons and it really has provided a lot of great natural resources in the area,” she told the council.
The issue of managing stormwater is one that is near and dear to Berlin, Mayor Gee Williams said. It’s been a hot-button topic in the town for years and recently seen some big steps in the establishment of a dedicated stormwater utility, which will oversee infrastructure improvements.
“As a community I think, not just the Mayor and Council, we’ve had a long discussion about this for at least the last two and a half years,” said Williams. “And I think the community is supportive of this entire concept.”
Allowing water to cycle through the floodplains would be fitting considering that people want to see stormwater purified naturally when that’s a practical option. The mayor was also satisfied by the amount of effort that seems to have gone into the plan.
“It certainly sounds like you’ve minimized any potential pain financially or administratively,” he told Jacobs.
No commitments were made but the council will be going on a field trip on Friday, Nov. 8 to visit the floodplains and learn more about the levees. Jacobs is scheduled to return for a follow-up council meeting after that trip to ask for official support from the town of Berlin.