WMCCA: How West Montgomery County Citizens Association Has Grown

WMCCA: How West Montgomery County Citizens Association Has Grown

Many regions across the country do not have a plan for their growth. They just spread. But Montgomery County planners had a vision which turned into a General Plan and individual subregion Master Plans. We developed under a concept of “wedges and corridors.”

As a result, we have a high-density urban core closest to D.C. and residential low-density ”green wedges” extending beyond urban centers like Silver Spring and Bethesda. The “green wedges” buffer our remaining farmland which has come to be known as the Agricultural Reserve. County planning has always considered the environment. The eastern and western “green wedges” buffer the Agricultural Reserve and are based on protecting streams that lead to the Potomac and Patuxent rivers as sources of the public drinking water supply. As the county has grown, so has the pressure for more dense development of the land we have committed to protect.

Organizations like WMCCA and the Montgomery Countryside Alliance are watchdogs and we must stay constantly vigilant in upholding our Master Plans and the farming history we share. Our common foundation of preservation principles compels us to resist the constant push to allow more and more inappropriate uses and increased density. We have protection of the environment in common and we often work together to achieve mutual ends.

Keeping our low-density zoning, holding back sprawl, protecting our watersheds and invaluable open spaces, make us natural allies. WMCCA is committed to buffering and protecting the 93,000 acres preserved to keep farming alive and well. The entire county benefits from nearby sources of fresh food and farm products, a window into our past and a landscape that always refreshes our spirits. We are fortunate in Potomac to have the Reserve as our nearest neighbor.


By Ken Bawer

Sewer extensions enable urban sprawl, disrupt the natural environment, threaten water quality in streams, pollute drinking water supplies, destroy forest cover, and enable the massive increase in house size and footprint with increased stormwater runoff. The County Council held a straw vote on March 20 and narrowly approved (5 to 4) the Elrich Amendment to the Water and Sewer Plan to protect our clean streams and stop sewer sprawl. The objectives of the amendment are two-fold.

First, it begins pro-active septic system owner outreach and education to prevent septic system failures. Education is the best way to ensure septic systems are properly maintained, avoiding many potential failures altogether.

Second, it changes the objective of septic surveys. As originally written, these surveys were simply used as a mechanism to promote sewer sprawl. They approved conversions from septic to sewer (via sewer category changes) based on theoretical, non-scientific determinations of long-term sustainability constraints to septic systems. For example, the result of the South Overlea Drive Septic Survey was to promote sewer sprawl by granting conversion to sewers for properties that not only had functioning septic systems, but also had an available replacement field.

The new language changes the objective of surveys to identifying and fixing actual or anticipated septic system failures. Sewer extensions would be limited to those properties with failed systems for which all available on-site remedies have been exhausted.

The importance of limiting sewer sprawl is obvious. Once sewer service is made available, water quality and the environment inevitably degrade due to increased house sizes, rezoning, and higher-density development. The resulting increased impervious surfaces promote increased stormwater runoff that degrades streams with sediment and contaminants. Stream quality maps show that areas with sewer lines have the worst water quality in the county.

Conversely, areas with septic systems have the highest water quality. WSSC has already proposed an $83M move of the Potomac Water Filtration Plant’s water intake to avoid stormwater-borne contaminants caused by sewer-enabled high-density development primarily in our own Watts Branch.

As we observe the necessity to repair aging sewer infrastructure in our stream valleys, the extent of the damage caused by sewers is all too glaring. Eroded and broken sewer pipes in our Stream Valley Parks require the use of heavy equipment to make repairs, resulting in the loss of additional forest and wetland habitat. Plus, WSSC sewer lines spilled more than 9 million gallons of raw sewage in the last three years due to blockage-caused overflows. In our low-density, rural, and agricultural zones, reliance on septic has been key to keeping development pressure low. As a county, we have made a commitment to smart growth and the use of septic systems is still key to limiting imperviousness which reduces stormwater runoff, thus protecting clean water and our precious watersheds.

We await the final revised wording of the Water and Sewer Plan before the final vote. As long as the straw vote holds, this is a major victory for upholding the Potomac Subregion Master Plan which says that sustaining the environment should be the preeminent policy determinant in our subregion which is so defined by its natural resources, and that new development and redevelopment must respect and enhance the Subregion’s environmental quality.

Therefore, we encourage our members to send a thank-you note to the five councilmembers who voted in the straw vote for the Elrich Amendment to protect our environment and clean water and to ask for their continued support of the Amendment at the vote on April 10:

  • Councilmember.Riemer@montgomerycountymd.gov
  • Councilmember.Elrich@montgomerycountymd.gov
  • Councilmember.Berliner@montgomerycountymd.gov
  • Councilmember.Navarro@montgomerycountymd.gov
  • Councilmember.Hucker@montgomerycountymd.gov

For our part, the WMCCA heartily thanks these five councilmembers (Riemer, Elrich, Berliner, Navarro, and Hucker) for voting for the Elrich Amendment to the Montgomery County 10-Year Water and Sewer Plan. Restricting sewer extensions to only those properties with failed systems and for which all available on-site remedies have been exhausted, is the most sensible and environmentally sound modus operandi.