- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
While several counties in Maryland have filed plans to clean up local waterways by a July 2 deadline, Charles County has chosen to develop its plan over the course of the next year
Maryland is requiring its counties to submit plans that detail strategies to reduce nutrient pollution in their waterways.
The plans are part of an overall strategy to reduce nutrient pollution in the Chesapeake Bay watershed to a level it can handle, called a Total Maximum Daily Load standard, that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency established in December 2010. Six states and Washington, D.C., which are in the watershed, are required to meet the TMDL by 2025.
Excess nitrogen and phosphorus are known to cloud water and cause algae blooms that reduce oxygen levels in the water. The lack of oxygen harms aquatic life and a lack of sunlight kills vegetation that the aquatic life depends on.
By not providing a plan, the county will be given a state default plan from the Maryland Department of the Environment, said MDE spokeswoman Samantha Kappalman.
The state’s default plan includes several strategies, called best management practices, to reduce and prevent nutrtient pollution from entering local waterways.
Some of the strategies proposed in the state’s default plan include nearly doubling cover crops on farmland from 3,821 acres per year in 2010 to 6,687 acres per year by 2025, reducing impervious surface cover that speeds up stormwater by 1,608 acres by 2025 and sweeping streets of nutrient pollution by 2025.
Kappalman said that if the county does not implement the state default plan, there will be consequences.
However, county planning staff are calling the default plan a “placeholder” for the county’s WIP, which it has scheduled to complete almost a year from now, June 30, 2013.
“We thought it was premature to put something out there before reviewing and vetting it [in public]. That’s why [the milestones list] was more planning oriented,” said Charles Rice, the Director of Environmental Programs with the county’s Department of Planning & Growth Management.
The county commissioners submitted a series of milestones in November to MDE that it intends to meet over the next two years as part of the WIP’s development.
Over the next two years, the county will draft scenarios of best management practices to implement, determine by how much the practices project to reduce nutrient pollution, present the scenarios to the public and determine funding sources for the practices.
Although several counties have submitted plans with Maryland Assessment Scenario Tool models, which depict how certain strategies will reduce nutrient pollution, county planning staff found the models to be “mostly unrealistic,” Rice said.
Thirteen of Maryland’s 24 local jurisdictions have submitted MAST models for 2017 and 15 have submitted MAST models for 2020, according to a list of models received from MDE.
“To see cost effective BMPs, it is important to see what are the most realistic BMPs so we are making sure what we put out there is doable and realistic,” Rice said.
For example, some practices requiring water to percolate in the ground cannot be done if the soils do not allow it. High water tables, when underground waters are close to the surface, also make some BMPs impossible, Rice said.
The county has hired a consultant, Limno-Tech, which will develop scenario options to meet the WIP, said Rice and Planning Director Steve Ball.
The lack of implementation over the next two years is discouraging to at least one environmentalist.
“The perspective of the advocacy community and part of the goal in engaging in leaders on the local level is that this engagement implies a certain level of control. Instead of being imposed and planned from the state, the county would have been able to put their best foot forward and put forward completing strategies and make an attempt to find funding sources. I thought that county would want local control, but it appears to be abdicating local control,” said Claudia Friedetzsky, the conservation representative for the Maryland Sierra Club.
The county has some plans to put in retrofit stormwater management and upgrade municipal wastewater treatment plants.
For example , the county’s milestones list states that there were eight stormwater projects slated for fiscal 2012 and three projects for fiscal 2013.
Rice said the stormwater management projects slow down the flow of stormwater so it has time to go into the ground, rather than directly reducing nutrient pollution in the water.
Since the county commissioners submitted their letter in November, they have had one briefing on the WIP process, but missing the July 2 deadline is ultimately “not an issue,” said Commissioner Ken Robinson.
“It’s a very complicated issue and we want to make sure we get it right rather than to make it first,” Robinson said.
“This is about real science, and real science has to be backed up with real data,” Robinson.
Calling the WIP process a “critical program,” Robinson said the county also needs to figure out realistic costs before submitting the plan to the state.
The projects for the WIP will be “specific,” Robinson said.“They will not be vague. I assure you with that.”
Port Tobacco River Convervancy Executive Director Dave Gardiner also said he was fine with the late development of the WIP.
“It is fine with me because what the conservancy would like to do is to get our input considered and that’s going to take a fair amount of time, and not just the conservancy, but all the watershed groups will be able to have real detailed input to the county WIP plan,” Gardiner said.
Gardiner said he wished the milestone list had more details and include information from the Port Tobacco River Watershed Restoration Action Strategy, passed in 2006.
The WRAS includes 20 action strategies, Gardiner said, ranging from upgrading failing septic systems to using stormwater management to fix runoff problems.
Gardiner said he looks forward to working with the county on the details, including where the pollution comes from and what corrective actions it needs to take to meet TMDL goals.