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December 2014
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February 2015

What You Need to Know About Polluted Runoff Fees

Outfall credit South River federationPhoto courtesy of South River Federation.

During the last election cycle, politicians mostly said "we're definitely supportive of restoring the Chesapeake Bay, but [fill in the blank for some aspect that a particular constituent has managed to get the prospective public official riled about]." 

And nothing riles more than a new regulation, or something that must be newly funded for it to work.

As most of us know, the Bay has a relatively fixed set of pollution sources. These include wastewater treatment plants and industry, agriculture, air pollution, septic systems, and urban and suburban rooftops, lawns, streets, and parking lots. Some of the first few are making pretty good progress in reducing pollution loads, though of course more needs to be done to meet the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint set up by the U.S. EPA and the watershed states.

But that last category is a tough nut to crack, and it can be (though isn't always) expensive. One of the biggest problems is fixing the systems built years ago to move water quickly off the landscape, and directly into the nearest stream—mostly untreated. As more of the landscape hardened up, the problem of polluted runoff and local flooding into and around our local streams and rivers worsened (see our report, Polluted Runoff: How Investing in Runoff Pollution Control Systems Improves the Chesapeake Bay Region’s Ecology, Economy, and Health). That's where we stand today, trying to deal with the one Bay pollution sectorurban and suburban runoffthat still appears to be on the wrong trajectory.

Recognizing this, the federal Clean Water Act permits issued to municipalities for this very pollution source have been getting tougher. This means that local jurisdictions have to undertake a lot more of the work necessary to retrofit new runoff management techniques into their urban and suburban areas. And that costs money.

Among the best ways to pay for public services like this is to set up a public utility, similar to the ones that treat our wastewater. In this case, special fees are charged to landowners, relative to the amount of hardened surfaces they have that allow pollution to run off, so municipalities can undertake this restoration work. Stormwater utilities, authorities or other special fee structures are locally formed and operated. They aren't mysterious. More than 1,400 municipalities in 39 states across the country already have implemented stormwater utilities of some kind—including some 25 in Virginia, a dozen or so in Maryland, and some half dozen in Pennsylvania. They are local solutions to a local problem.

Though a number of Maryland's would-be politicians decried these "rain taxes" during the last election cycle, as noted here, they're not really that at all. And the special funds are badly needed to reduce this significant source of pollution.

To help municipalities and citizens better understand the scope and nature of these utilities, as well as set them up in the most effective way possible, CBF has just published a new Best Practices Guide, Local Stormwater Utilities, Authorities, and Fees. The eight-pager describes the nature of such a utility, the necessity of good public education on the issue, tips for fair statutes and ordinances, setting up budgets and fees, and putting the best, most-effective projects on the ground.

By reducing the mystery and increasing the quality of such systems, we hope many municipalities will voluntarily adopt them. We also hope that those local jurisdictions which already have, will operate them efficiently and effectively to obtain the results their local streams and rivers, and the Bay, so badly need.

—Lee Epstein, CBF's Director of Lands Program

Recently some Maryland leaders, including Gov. Hogan, are threatening to roll back clean water progress in our Bay and its rivers and streams. If ever there was a time to act on behalf of your local waterways, this is it. Please contact Gov. Hogan and your state legislators and remind them that Maryland has committed to make steady, measurable progress on clean water restoration under the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. We can't backtrack on the Bay! We must continue—indeed, accelerate—efforts to reduce urban, suburban, and agricultural polluted runoff. 


Photo of the Week: Sunset on the Shore

10893908_10152945073090336_1359020313_nAnother beautiful shot from Kent Islander Krystle Chick.

The Bay is our future. I volunteer and teach my five-year-old son the importance of not littering, picking up other people's trash because it could harm the ecosystem and animals, [respect ing] all animals/insects of the Bay.

Living on the Shore you really appreciate the beauty of the Bay. Where I grew up in Prince George's County all I thought was that the Bay was dirtyI never wanted to go near it much less swim in it. I don't want it to be like that for future generations. Everyone should be able to enjoy the beauty of the Chesapeake Bay. 

—Krystle Chick

Ensure that Krystle, her son, and future generations continue to enjoy extraordinary sights like these along the Chesapeake. Support the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint! 

Do you have a favorite Bay photo you'd like to submit to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Photo of the Week contest? Send your digital images to CBF's E-Communications Manager, Emmy Nicklin, at enicklin [at sign] cbf.org, along with a brief description of where and when you took the photo, and what the Chesapeake Bay means to you. We look forward to seeing your photos!


A Manure Solution for the Chesapeake Bay

The following first appeared in the Washington Post.

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Photo by Tim McCabe.

Agriculture is the largest source of pollution to the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers and streams. As part of the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint, the regional plan to restore the bay, states in the bay's watershed pledged to reduce agricultural pollution substantially.

As if that weren't reason enough to accelerate cleanup efforts in agriculture, here's another: It's far cheaper to stop pollution from farms than any other major source, including sewage plants, cars and paved landscapes.

Despite this, the Maryland poultry industry is fighting a common-sense solution that would clean up the creeks and rivers of Maryland's Eastern Shore. University of Maryland scientists proposed the solution after 10 years of study. It's simple: If a farmer uses chicken manure as fertilizer, he or she must apply the right amount to his or her fields. In November, Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) proposed regulations to do just that.

The Maryland Department of Agriculture estimates that about 228,000 tons of excess chicken manure are being applied per year to the fields of the Eastern Shore. It's not intentional. Farmers use an outdated scientific tool for determining the right amount of manure, and no state regulation mandates an update. So farmers clean out their chicken houses and apply the poultry litter on nearby fields as fertilizer — at legal but excessive levels. The result of the excess manure in Maryland is glaring.

Other agricultural states, including Pennsylvania and Virginia, have updated their phosphorus limits for manure application.

The list of polluted Eastern Shore waterways is long and includes the Chester, Choptank, Transquaking, Nanticoke, Sassafras, Manokin, Pocomoke and Wicomico rivers. About 80 percent of the phosphorus pollution fouling those rivers comes from agriculture, and much of it is from excess chicken manure applied to fields. When it rains, the phosphorus washes into nearby creeks or leaches out of the fields.

Phosphorus in the water stimulates massive outbreaks of algae, starting a chain reaction that results in dead zones of low oxygen and a crippled seafood industry. Excess manure also can make Eastern Shore swimming areas unsafe.

Many rivers around Maryland are getting cleaner, thanks to public investments to clean up sewage plants. Marylanders helped pay for these improvements through the so-called flush fees or other fees on sewer or water bills. But many creeks of the Eastern Shore are getting dirtier.

The manure solution would not only clean up Eastern Shore creeks and rivers but also would serve farmers. The soil would become healthier if it's no longer receiving excessive levels of phosphorus. Farmers know healthy soil means increased productivity. And because phosphorus is a valuable commodity, innovative industries are waiting in the wings to pay farmers for their excess phosphorus.

New manure regulations would be phased in over years by the Maryland Department of Agriculture, and implementation would be subsidized by the state.

Farmers with excess manure may have to truck some to other areas where fields aren't saturated or to private facilities that turn poultry manure into energy, fertilizer pellets or other products. Some farmers may have to buy commercial fertilizer to replace the nitrogen from the manure or use mixed-species cover crops to add nitrogen from the atmosphere to the soil. The state would help pay for these costs. Large poultry companies should have a role in helping the small chicken growers comply with this new regulation.

What's not to like? Local creeks and rivers of the Eastern Shore would get cleaner. So would the Chesapeake Bay. Swimming areas that once were off-limits would be safe again. Crabs, fish and oysters would rebound. Watermen would go back to work. Farm fields would produce greater yields from healthier soil. Many farmers would sell excess phosphorus to the private market.

Unfortunately, Gov.-elect Larry Hogan (R) has been getting bad information on this issue. He has vowed to roll back progress. "The first fight [when I take office] will be against these politically motivated, midnight-hour phosphorus management tool regulations that the outgoing administration is trying to force upon you in these closing days," Hogan told the Maryland Farm Bureau Convention in December.

Lobbyists for Maryland agriculture claim these regulations would harm the Eastern Shore. They also say the new rule was a last-minute effort, even though it was years in the making and frequently delayed by the same lobbyists. It's the same old story. Industry fights science. Yet time and time again we have seen that reasonable regulations stimulate our economy. Smart companies see them as opportunities, not obstacles.

There's too much manure on the shore. Those opposed to a reasonable solution need to stop shoveling it in Annapolis.

—Will Baker, CBF President

Tell Maryland's leaders we need to reduce agricultural pollution through innovative tools that help farmers reduce phosphorus running off their farm fields.


Photo of the Week: A Winter Wonderland at Sugarland Run

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In winter, while many boaters are drydocked, seasoned sea kayakers tend to venture throughout the Chesapeake Bay Basin, especially after a decent snowfall to enjoy a cool paddle into a winter waterscape. During these paddles, we often observe numerous waterfowl including coots, scoters, grebes, mallards, blue and night herons, tundra swan, and wood ducks who commonly winter here.

Last year on St. Patrick's Day, we were lucky to see many of these migrant visitors and residents who guardedly greeted us, as we paddled off the Potomac River to explore Sugarland Run atop its glassy surfaces with emerald-like hues.

—Dom J. (DJ) Manalo, Rockville, MD

Ensure that DJ and future generations continue to enjoy extraordinary sights like these along the Chesapeake. Support the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint! 

Do you have a favorite, winter-themed Bay photo you'd like to submit to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Photo of the Week contest? Send your digital images to me at enicklin [at sign] cbf.org, along with a brief description of where and when you took the photo, and what the Chesapeake Bay and its waters mean to you. We look forward to seeing your photos!

Phosphorus Management Tool: The Right Thing To Do—Right Now

The following first appeared in the Bay Journal.

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Photo by Dave Hartcorn

It isn't ideology. It isn't hyperbole. It isn't an attack on the family farmer or rural Maryland.

It is, simply, common sense. Science says we have far too much manure-based phosphorus being applied to land on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. You might call it a manure crisis.

Farm fields cannot absorb the phosphorus in the 228,000 tons of excess chicken manure applied annually. Virtually everyone agrees that this problem cannot be the status quo and that the problem of too much pollution, wherever it is, creates environmental, economic and human health havoc. Just look at the state of the rivers on the Eastern Shore.

The good news is that there is a simple, common sense solution to the pollution problem on Maryland's Eastern Shore. It is the Phosphorus Management Tool, and it has been offered not once, not twice, but three times. Each time it has been proposed, someone stands up and says, "I'm all for clean water, but not here, not now."

Our view at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation is that the phosphorus management tool is the very least we should do to solve the manure crisis on Maryland's Eastern Shore. Our elected leaders in the legislative assembly and the governor-elect need to find the political will to make this simple tool a reality farmers can use to do what they say—and we believe—they want to do: the right thing.

And, our elected officials need to act now. We invite them to join us, have a look for themselves, and talk to the watermen whose catches are threatened by bad local water quality.

The Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint 2017 mid-term pollution reduction goals are right around the corner. Maryland needs to accelerate efforts to meet its goals, especially on the Eastern Shore. Delaying the adoption of the phosphorus management tool further will only mean reductions will have to come from other pollution sectors, perhaps from wastewater treatment. And, achieving reductions from every other sector—is many times more costly.

Maryland has long been a leader in Bay restoration. The decisions and actions our leaders take concerning the simple, long-awaited, badly-needed, cost-effective phosphorus management tool will be a harbinger of the state's leadership role in the future.

—Alison Prost, CBF's Maryland Director

Tell Maryland's leaders we need to reduce agricultural pollution through innovative tools that help farmers reduce phosphorus running off their farm fields.