Section 3.1: Intro to Watershed Protection Assessments

Watershed protection assessments are a key component of the Chesapeake RiverWise Communities program. These assessments take a holistic look at residential properties to:

  • Gauge stormwater runoff, wildlife habitat, and homeowner behaviors
  • Provide site-specific recommendations to reduce environmental impacts and restore local watersheds.

Four main goals of the assessment process:

  1. Educating homeowners
  2. Identifying structural BMP implementation opportunities
  3. Identifying behavior change BMP opportunities
  4. Providing entrance into incentive programs, such as cost shares, rebates, or stormwater fee reductions

The RiverWise assessment process provides a chance to communicate the importance of controlling stormwater runoff to homeowners and encourage
stormwater BMP implementation. We also use this opportunity to educate homeowners about the importance of using native plants and increasing wildlife habitat, and to collect information from the homeowner.

Section 3.2: Pre-Assessment Questionnaire

The purpose of the pre-assessment questionnaire is to gather information about the homeowner’s habits, knowledge, and behaviors related to stormwater runoff and environmental impacts. A pre-assessment questionnaire provides a baseline that can be compared with information
gathered later to gauge behavior changes and the effectiveness of the program.

The pre-assessment questionnaire also allows the assessor to gather information about habits and site conditions that may not be easily detected
during the on-site assessment (e.g., how often the homeowners water their lawn or garden).

Furthermore, the pre-assessment questionnaire can be used as a tool to educate homeowners about which landscaping and outdoor yard habits are best for reducing stormwater runoff and improving wildlife habitat. For example, during an online pre-assessment, the homeowner would answer the question and then could be given the “right answer” and a short explanation.

Section 3.3: The Assessment

After the homeowner signs up for the assessment and fills out the pre-assessment questionnaire, the assessor should set up an appointment for a site visit. The assessor should schedule a time when the homeowner is available to meet, since the site visit is a good opportunity for one-on-one education. Summer and winter are generally the best seasons to schedule assessments, because this can coincide nicely with the following fall and spring plantings and lawn maintenance. However, do not delay responding to a homeowner just to align the process in this manner. It is critical to have prompt, frequent communication to keep the homeowner interested.

Before the appointment, the assessor should gather some basic information about the property to determine lot size, property type, location of impervious surfaces and their area, proximity to local water bodies and other critical areas, and general watershed information. An aerial view of the property and any other characteristics that may influence BMP implementation are helpful. Some of this data may be available through parcel information provided on local government websites. Google Earth/Maps and Bing Maps provide free aerial views of the property that can be printed, if GIS software or other local mapping tools are unavailable. The assessor should also review the pre-assessment questionnaire answers and have a list of questions ready for the homeowner, if any of the survey answers need to be clarified during the on site visit.

The data gathered during the assessment should include the following:

  • Downspouts: Note the number of downspouts and whether they are connected or disconnected from the storm system.
  • Impervious surfaces: Measure the area of each impervious surface, including the house, walkways, driveways, patios, and any other areas where water does not infiltrate into the ground.
  • Soil information: The assessor can use a soil probe to determine the soil profile, including of the soil type. This, along with assessing the compaction of the soil, will help identify whether or not stormwater infiltrates through the soil, especially in grassy areas.
  • Property conditions related to stormwater conveyance: The assessor should note the direction and severity of any slopes, locations of eroded areas, locations of swales, ditches, drain inlets or outfalls, and the location and types of any existing BMPs.
  • Information about vegetation: Identify the major invasive, native, and non-native plants on the property and whether there are layers of vegetation (e.g., tall trees with high canopies, understory trees, shrubs, and perennial flowers).
  • Solar exposure: The solar exposure on the property is important for identifying which native plants will work best when installing rain gardens and BayScapes.
  • Utility locations: Note the location of utility lines, both overhead and underground, including power lines, gas lines, cable and telephone lines, water lines and sewer lines.
  • Infiltration Test: If a site has specific locations where infiltration BMPs (e.g., rain gardens, dry wells, or permeable pavers) will be installed, the assessor should try to conduct an infiltration test on the site.

Section 3.4: Assessment Report

Next, the assessor will use the information gathered during the site visit to generate a report to provide to the homeowner. The report should include a cover page of recommendations, observations, and a site sketch. For the RiverWise Program, the assessment form that is filled out on-site with the PDF Expert app is set up to also serve as the report (See Appendix 3B). The
assessor needs to keep a copy of the report for the organization’s records.

A list of potential recommendations along with tips for making these recommendations can be found in the manual.

Section 3.5: Assessment Follow Up

The assessor should follow up with the homeowner to answer any questions about the report recommendations and incentive program enrollment, if applicable. This can be done in person, by phone, or by email, preferably within  a couple of weeks of the assessment (again, the sooner the better, in order to maintain the homeowner’s interest). If the assessor assigned to the homeowner is not available to do followup, then another staff person or intern should conduct the follow-up, rather than delay it for too long.

Section 3.6: Assessment Progress Tracking

It is important to track the assessment process in order to make sure each step is being completed in a timely manner. Gathering all the data into one tracking sheet can also help with managing the assessment assignments, reporting to funders, or publicizing the status of the program.

There are a variety of methods for tracking sign-ups, assessment appointments, report follow-ups, enrollment in incentive programs,
etc. The two most commonly used methods are as follows:

  1. Tracking cover sheet on every report/assessment copy
  2. Excel or Access database (RiverWise example is in Appendix 3D)