Each year in Virginia Tech’s Executive Master of Natural Resources (XMNR)program, one of the case projects students investigate is stormwater management, specifically in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.  

The United Nations (UN) reports that approximately 2 billion people, one-fifth of the world’s population, live in areas of water scarcity. Increased demand and climate change are poised to make water increasingly scarce. The impacts of this are varied, jeopardizing food and energy production and threatening the public and economic health. In order to address these issues, the UN asserts that green infrastructure is a viable way to improve water quality, availability, and water-related risks like floods.

The Chesapeake Bay supports 17 million people and 3,600 different species. It produces more than 500 million pounds of seafood a year, and its watershed helps maintain the drinking water of 75% of the area’s human population. However, population growth and development have helped make stormwater runoff the fastest growing source of pollution in the Bay and its diffuse and variable nature makes it difficult to manage. Center for Leadership in Global Sustainability faculty member Dr. Bruce Hull wrote about the Clean Water Partnership in Prince George’s County, Maryland, as an example of how multiple stakeholders can work together to tackle this increasing challenge.

storm drain water

Although green infrastructure is a strategy for managing stormwater, there can be economic, technical, regulatory, and social obstacles that make implementation challenging. At April’s class meeting, XMNR students explored public-private partnerships as a mechanism for addressing the complexity of managing stormwater using green infrastructure.


Faculty member Holly Wise opened the cohort’s monthly meeting in Arlington, Virginia, with an introduction to the public-private partnership model, helping students understand the advantages and disadvantages of this approach to collaboration. Most importantly, she stressed that “partnership is not the end in itself, it is a vehicle for getting things done together, solving problems that are of interest to everyone.”

Seth Brown, Principal, and Founder of Storm and Stream Solutions, LLC, was on hand to explain the causes and impacts of stormwater runoff and the ways in which green infrastructure can help. Mr. Brown pointed out that in the Washington, D.C. metro region, “we have a great deal of work to do in managing stormwater in the Bay watershed and it is expensive.” With partnerships and stormwater in focus, XMNR students began a study of Prince Georges County’s Clean Water Program (CWP).

In 2015, Prince George’s County (PGCo), Maryland, was faced with new US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) mandates regarding stormwater runoff. Given that the county has 15,000 impervious acres, the new mandates presented the county with a daunting task.

However, Prince George’s County leaders saw the mandates as an opportunity to invest in sustainable development and the local community and economy. PGCo enlisted Corvias Solutions to help them find an efficient and cost-effective program for managing stormwater. What emerged from their efforts was the CWP, the first Community-Based Public-Private Partnership (CBP3) of its kind.

The CWP is focused on using green stormwater infrastructure to convert urban areas from funnels to filters. The initial 30-year partnership is committed to ensuring regulatory urban stormwater compliance for up to 4,000 impervious acres. Seth Brown, Greg Cannito (Managing Director of Corvias Solutions), and Neil Weinstein (Executive Director of Low Impact Development, an NGO providing technical and programmatic support to the CWP partnership), formed a panel to explain how the CWP is working to achieve this goal.


Much of what makes this partnership special is that it is committed to local economic and community development. It requires that 30% of the labor be locally sourced and over 40% of the businesses be local, small, minority, women, veteran, and disadvantaged businesses. In fact, over the first 3 years of the program, approximately 40 county-based Minority Business Enterprises (MBEs) are anticipated to participate and 51 percent of the labor hours are to be contributed by county residents.

Corvias is also helping local businesses acquire skills and education that will allow them to take their businesses to the next level via a Mentor-Protégé program. Through the Schools Program, the CWP is meeting its goals by installing green infrastructure on school grounds while also providing learning opportunities for students in environmental stewardship. In addition, the CWP also supported End Time Harvest Ministries in providing 6-week paid internships for high school students in the field of stormwater management.

Prior to their next class meeting in May, XMNR students are evaluating the CWP partnership. In particular, they will take a close look at the partnership’s use of best practices using such tools as the World Wildlife Fund’s Partnership checklist. Finally, XMNR students will create a document designed to promote the CWP partnership model. This document will allow students to practice communication strategies introduced to them during April’s meeting by Eric Eckl, owner and principal or Water Words That Work, LLC.

Throughout their XMNR journey, students study complex sustainability issues from a systems perspective, examining the ecological, economic, cultural, and political systems they encompass. The intensive one-year program utilizes collaboration, case studies, an international residency, and an independent study to provide students with a broad perspective on leadership for sustainability. All aspects of the program help students develop the skills and strategies they need to position themselves as sustainability leaders in their professions and their communities.


aerial view of Chesapeake Bay area
E Hurley headshot

Elizabeth Hurley is an alumnus of Virginia Tech’s Executive Master of Natural Resources (XMNR) program and now a faculty member with the program. As an instructor with Fairfax County Public Schools, she teaches IB Environmental Systems and Societies, an interdisciplinary, college-level course that addresses a wide range of environmental issues from a systems perspective. Previously, she worked as an environmental economist at SAIC where she conducted cost-benefit analyses for EPA’s stormwater and drinking water programs.  Elizabeth also holds a B.A. in Economics from Virginia Tech, and an M.S. in Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics from the University of Maryland.

The Center for Leadership in Global Sustainability thanks the following photographers for sharing their work through the Creative Commons License: scott1346Chesapeake Bay Program; and Chris Goldberg. Thanks also to XMNR student Allie Dore for permission to use her photos from class.