Introducing Our Celebratory Blog Series: Showcasing the Remarkable Achievements of Maryland’s Award-Winning Counties!
Join us on an exciting journey as we embark on a special blog series dedicated to honoring the exceptional accomplishments of the counties that triumphed in the National Association of Counties (NACo) 2023 Achievement Awards. Each week, we will shine a well-deserved spotlight on a few remarkable counties, delving into their accomplishments, innovative initiatives, and the profound impact they have had on their communities. Let’s dive in!
Howard County – Biosolids Product Marketing Program
The program was conceived during the design phase of the capital upgrade to the solids handling side of the LPWRP, Addition #8, in 2015. The capital project built a dryer facility to create a dry biosolids product that would reduce disposal costs and potentially be marketable. The dryers were started near the end of 2020, and HoCo Bio was born. Howard County, in conjunction with Material Matters, began this program to develop and market a saleable biosolids product rather than paying to remove it. A market survey was done to see the most desirable characteristics, what customers might be willing to pay, and what markets were possible. HoCo Bio was registered with the state as a fertilizer, a label was created, and ads were placed in local farming publications. The response has been good, with a handful of interested parties. In 2022, trial loads were delivered to 4 potential customers, which resulted in a short-term purchase agreement for HoCo Bio. Overall, cost reductions have been significant. Total disposal costs in 2020 were $1,902,000. 2021 dropped to $467,000; in 2022, the disposal costs dropped to $270,000. The program is continuing and expected to ultimately create revenue as all of the HoCo Bio product is marketed.
Howard County – Climate Emergency Preparedness Survey
Howard County’s Office of Community Sustainability (OCS), with the collaboration of dozens of departments and external partners across the County, is publishing Howard County’s Climate Action and Resiliency Plan in 2023. In developing the resiliency strategies for the plan, the OCS designed and distributed a survey to get feedback from county residents on how well they are prepared for climate hazards expected to increase in intensity and frequency, what they need to feel prepared for, and what climate-related hazards they have experienced. The survey was primarily distributed to underserved communities, such as individuals 65+, individuals with low-moderate income, people of color, and individuals with disability/access and functional needs. The County received more than 400 responses and gained valuable insights into community needs. The County plans to directly address these needs through the Climate Action and Resiliency Plan, which will serve as a priority work plan across County departments for the next three to five years.
Howard County – Fire Hydrant Replacement Program
The Bureau of Utilities (BOU) maintains 10,111 fire hydrants in our water distribution system. Two thousand two hundred sixty-four of these fire hydrants are A.P. Smith fire hydrants, the oldest fire hydrants in the system and the most labor-intensive to maintain. Other disadvantages include lack of replacement parts since these hydrants are no longer manufactured, lack of an isolation valve which results in numerous customers losing water service during a repair, questionable functionality when the need arises to use these hydrants and their nozzles with led packing that has the potential to fail and damage property and injure bystanders. In March 2022, the BOU procured two 5-year contracts to replace all 2,264 A.P. Smith fire hydrants.
Howard County – Climate Forward: A Better Way to Plan
Howard County’s Climate Forward project demonstrates a better way to plan for climate mitigation and resiliency. The key to this project is the deep level of engagement it fostered from nearly every department, bureau, and office within the County government. This interdepartmental cooperation informed the development of a comprehensive climate action and resiliency plan that prioritizes actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, store carbon, increase resiliency to severe storms and other climate hazards, and emphasizes equity, inclusion, and justice in every initiative. Climate Forward is more than just a document. It is a strategic work plan for every County government level across all departments and all staff. Continued intergovernmental cooperation and improved community services are ensured through the appointment of a Climate Action Sub-cabinet and its interdisciplinary workgroups that meet regularly to move climate action plan implementation forward in the most innovative, equitable, collaborative, and efficient manner.
Howard County – LED Light Bulb Exchanges in Howard County Libraries
Howard County began a partnership with the Howard County Library system in 2022 to develop an ongoing, free LED light bulb exchange pilot program at two libraries serving the most under-resourced populations in the County. This program dramatically improved the County’s previous LED light bulb exchanges that occurred sporadically as one-time events. Through this program, residents turn in old, inefficient compact fluorescent (CFL) and incandescent light bulbs and receive free, high-efficiency LEDs in exchange. By participating in this program, residents save money on electricity bills, reduce energy use, and help the County meet its greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals. Residents also receive information on other energy-saving tips and programs with their free LED bulbs. This program also expands opportunities for residents to safely dispose of CFLs, which contain toxic mercury and cannot be thrown in the regular trash. Within just six weeks of launching the program, the County has provided residents with nearly 1,000 high-efficiency LED bulbs, saving residents a total of nearly 40,000 kWh of electricity and nearly $4,000. This scalable program can expand to all libraries throughout Howard County based on the pilot’s success in two libraries.
Anne Arundel County – Managed Aquifer Recharge Pilot System
To improve long-term water supply resiliency and water quality in the Chesapeake Bay, the Department of Public Works (DPW) is evaluating multiple management strategies to reduce nutrients and provide enhanced water supply options to the region. One piece of this strategy is evaluating the feasibility of indirect potable reuse by adding advanced water treatment (AWT) processes to an existing County Water Reclamation Facility (WRF). The AWT processes will further treat wastewater effluent to national drinking water and potable reuse water quality standards to perform managed aquifer recharge.
Howard County – Native Plant Pollinator Garden Design Templates
Pollinators are vital to natural ecosystems, providing pollination services to over 85% of the world’s flowering plants. The resulting seeds and fruit provide food for countless animals and protect biodiversity. In addition to wild plants, insect pollination is critically tied to our food supply. Pollinators are in decline. Threats to pollinators include habitat loss and degradation, climate change, and the impacts of widespread pesticide use. Howard County Bee City developed six Native Plant Pollinator Garden Design Templates for varying site conditions and included a list of local native plant suppliers. The templates provide information on suggested native plants that work well in various conditions such as sun, shade, and moisture, and also have special templates for cul-de-sac islands. There is also information on which plants are more deer resistant. The Templates allow for additional education and outreach about the importance of sustaining pollinators and their role in maintaining a healthy ecosystem. To complement this project, we developed a Habitat Registration Form to help track the amount of habitat created through our Bee City efforts. We encouraged residents to register their habitat to be counted in the Howard County Pollinator Habitat total. Residents reporting their habitat are eligible for a free sign to install in their pollinator habitat.
Anne Arundel County – Ops Complex Solar Panels
The Department of Public Works has added a new 1.3-megawatt photovoltaic panel system at their Utility Operations Complex in Millersville, Maryland. The system includes 1,532 solar modules on existing building roofs, 1,400 solar modules on new parking lot canopies, and other necessary improvements to support the system. The system will be interconnected to the Baltimore Gas and Electric electrical grid and provide an estimated 95% of the annual electricity demand for the facility. The project supports the County’s goal of pursuing more sustainable and renewable energy production methods.
Howard County – Unique Commercial Partnerships for Water Quality Solutions
In 2013, Howard County instituted a Watershed Protection and Restoration Fee and associated reimbursement and fee credit programs for both commercial and residential properties. While the residential program became immediately popular, the commercial program was vastly underutilized. The County struggled to gain interest from commercial entities due to a lack of incentives and up-front financial commitments. Recognizing the limitations of the existing Commercial Stormwater Solutions Partnership program, Howard County expanded opportunities so that commercial properties would find value in partnering to implement water quality improvements. Adjusting our incentive model to provide alternative financial solutions increased partnership participation. Upon establishing a willing business association as a partner, Howard County had to creatively adjust our model further to determine fair allocations of credits to each landowner within the association.
Together, let’s explore the remarkable stories behind these award-winning counties and draw inspiration from their passion, creativity, and commitment to making a positive difference. View all 2023 NACo Achievement Award winners through their interactive and searchable map. View our full series of 2023 Maryland Award Winners.