Investigating Water Quality BMPs by Native Plant Species Buffer Around Chesapeake Bay

Focus Area

Water Quality/Wetlands


Natural Resources






2-3 years

Research Idea Scope

Construction, operation, and maintenance of infrastructure changes land surface permeability and runoff rates. Roadside ditches carry invisible chemicals such as zinc and cadmium, nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbons, herbicides, and road salt. Furthermore, deleterious compounds on the road surfaces are easily transportable to streams, lakes, Chesapeake Bay area during storm water runoff that degrade water quality and can harm aquatic life.

The road constructions alter the surrounding natural hydrologic regimes and aquatic ecosystems are regularly shocked by large flushes of water and contaminant loading (Nelson et al. 2001) by rainfall. The most standard roadside designs can accommodate the use of vegetated buffers as storm water quality BMPs. Vegetated buffers have been proven effective in protecting water quality from the negative influence by removing sediment, nutrients, and pollutants and reducing storm water runoff. However, the roadside vegetation was homogenized and smoothed during road maintenance activities which largely devoid it of its natural heterogeneity and richness and the direct effects of road runoff on patterns and processes of aquatic ecosystems are also poorly understood, especially Chesapeake Bay area. In Chesapeake Bay, native oyster populations are at less than 1% of historic levels due to the diseases overharvesting, and pollutions. This tremendous decline in the oyster population has dramatically changed the Bay ecosystem as well as the oyster industry.  But the relationship between the event of road storm water runoff and oyster survival is also poorly understood.

The primary objective of the research is assessing the performance of native vegetation buffers. Research also includes investigating the relationship between maintenance activities such as mowing cycles or herbicide treatments and pollutant removal performance. The research is finding out appropriate native plant spices of vegetated buffer system to reduce sediment /pollutants and to minimize or eliminate maintenance activities for vegetated buffer to support the restoration of the Chesapeake Bay. The secondary objective of the research is to understand the relationship between the ecology of Chesapeake Bay area and road runoff through oyster survival experiments and phytoplankton which is excellent indicator of the health of the Chesapeake Bay waters because they are especially sensitive to changes in pollution levels, water clarity, temperature and salinity.

Urgency and Payoff

Appropriate native plant species near Chesapeake Bay area and maintenance activities for vegetated buffer will, first, reduce sediment/pollutants produced by road impervious, second, minimize maintenance required by a native vegetated buffer that will support the restoration of the Chesapeake Bay. Through investigating the relationship between road runoff and oyster survival/phytoplankton, understanding the relationship between road runoff and ecosystem of Chesapeake Bay. Storm water runoff has been shown to have a tremendous impact on the surrounding ecosystems. Integration of the project results will allow us to predict the potential impact of native vegetation buffer for road runoff and to interpret road runoff effect for Chesapeake Bay ecosystem.

Suggested By

Donghee Kang, ERC/Green highway transportation

[email protected]