Legislation to require better management of farm manure is not the kind of subject that is likely to attract attention from the general public, but it is critical for the health of the Chesapeake Bay.
Why? Because in Maryland, for example, farm runoff accounts for 48 percent of the phosphorus polluting entering the Bay, and 37 percent of the nitrogen pollution, according to state statistics.
A bill proposed in Maryland by State Senators Paul Pinsky and Brian Frosh (Senate Bill 594) would prohibit most application of manure or “biosolids” (partially treated human waste from sewage treatment plants) on farm fields during the cold months, from November 1 through March 1. Starting in 2020, the legislation would also ban the spreading of these fertilizers from September 10 through November.
This ban during the fall and winter would be an important step forward in protecting the Bay. Spreading manure on fields that are frozen -– or that lack crops to absorb the nutrients -– allows rain or melting snow to flush pollutants into nearby streams and the Bay.
Farms with large numbers of chickens, cows, or pigs sometimes feel compelled to spread manure in the winter months, because they lack storage facilities to keep the waste out of the rain until springtime, when the fertilizer should be applied.
On Tuesday, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) and several other environmental organizations testified in favor of Senate Bill 594 before the Maryland Senate Education, Health, and Environment committee.
“Largely voluntary actions since 1985 have not accomplished the state goals of reducing pollution and restoring the health of our waterways, so the entire Bay watershed was put on a pollution diet,” CBF and the other groups, including the National Wildlife Federation and Environment Maryland, said in a joint statement.
Senate Bill 594 would help Maryland meet this diet, which is a pollution limit created by EPA and called a “Total Maximum Daily Load” or TMDL.
CBF and the other environmental groups do not all agree on the particulars of the bill. For example, CBF wants the bill strengthened by taking out language that would allow wintertime application of manure or human waste as long as it is injected into farm fields. CBF believes that applying these fertilizers in the winter is unwise, period.
But the legislation is helpful, because the debate process could help push forward draft state regulations to manage manure that have were discussed in the summer and fall and then dropped, because the various parties could not agree on the specifics.
Best to address these issues now and move forward with these vital protections for the Bay.
By Tom Pelton
Chesapeake Bay Foundation