It's Time for PA to Reboot Its Commitments to Bay Agreement

The following first appeared in the Bay Journal.

A promised "reboot" of pollution-reduction efforts in Pennsylvania is desperately needed to get the Keystone State back on track so that we have clean, healthy waters now and for generations to come. Photo by Daniel Hart at Pennsylvania's Ricketts Glen State Park.

As Pennsylvania's executive and legislative branches of government are embroiled in a budget stalemate that lingers well beyond the June 30 deadline, the commonwealth remains significantly behind in its commitment to meeting its obligations for reducing water pollution in the central Pennsylvania counties that are part of the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

A promised "reboot" of pollution reduction efforts by the commonwealth has the Chesapeake Bay Foundation guardedly optimistic that water quality will rebound in the Keystone State.

Since 1983, Pennsylvania and the other Bay states have agreed five times to reduce pollution. It is unacceptable, then, that Pennsylvania's nitrogen and sediment pollution reduction commitments from agriculture and urban runoff remain considerably off-track.

The most promising of those agreements came in 2010 when the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint was established. At that time, Pennsylvania and the other Bay signatories committed to specific actions, two-year incremental targets and a 2017 midterm mark. The commonwealth must greatly accelerate progress if it is to have 60 percent of pollution reduction practices in place by 2017 and 100 percent by 2025. Both are obligations of the Clean Water Blueprint.

The reboot will map out the commonwealth's plan for acceleration.

Gov. Tom Wolf inherited this challenge when he took office in January, but CBF has strong expectations that the new administration will enact the necessary reform to get the commonwealth back on track.

Among agency leaders, state Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding has acknowledged that a reboot is imperative. Department of Environmental Protection Secretary John Quigley reiterated the commonwealth's commitment to accelerated efforts during his address to the Chesapeake Bay Executive Council this summer. His agency is responsible for the draft plan of the clean water reboot.

The DEP has stated that a reboot of Pennsylvania's clean water efforts is imminent.

Three things are key if a reboot is to reinvigorate clean water efforts in the commonwealth: leadership, commitment, and investment.

  • Leadership. While Pennsylvania certainly has made progress since the mid-1980s, leadership by elected officials has been inconsistent. Renewed leadership will be necessary to bring sectors such as agriculture and urban communities into compliance with existing state clean water laws. Informal DEP estimates conclude that roughly 30 percent of the commonwealth's farms are meeting such standards.
  • Commitment. There is no simple solution. Meeting the commonwealth's obligations requires the commitment to solve the problem from all pollutant source sectors and all levels of government. Historically, Pennsylvania has attempted to reach its Bay goals without localizing responsibilities. As a result, for many the effort has felt as far away as the Bay itself.
  • Investment. Pennsylvania knows what needs to be done — decades of science and experience have led to the road map that is the Clean Water Blueprint. Investing existing resources where it makes the most sense and committing new resources to fully implement the blueprint will reap returns.

CBF is asking for an immediate infusion of at least $20 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to be invested in agricultural best management practices. Since 2008, the USDA has directed more than $255 million toward conservation practice implementation in the Susquehanna River Basin.

CBF also believes that, in the revised plan for Pennsylvania, the legislature should provide more adequate funding by making a greater down payment in the second year of the Wolf administration, including efforts to ensure an accurate accounting of BMPs already in place.

The federal government has outlined a number of consequences should Pennsylvania continue to fall behind its clean water commitments. The EPA, for example, could require additionalupgrades to sewage treatment plants or more urban/suburban pollution reduction.

Pennsylvania needs a reboot that gets the commonwealth back on track to meeting its clean water promise to its citizens and to people downstream. We look forward to a robust plan from Wolf and working with the legislature and administration in ensuring its implementation.

Clean water counts in Pennsylvania. It is a legacy worth leaving future generations.

—Harry Campbell, CBF's Pennsylvania Executive Director

Are you a resident of Pennsylvania? Make your voice heard, and tell your County Commissioners to pass a resolution saying Clean Water Counts in Pennsylvania!

EPA Needs to Act on States' Inability to Reach Nutrient Goals


Bill Portlock
Photo by Bill Portlock/CBF Staff.

The following first appeared in the Bay Journal.

Since 2010, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation has applauded the transparency, accountability and consequences built into the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. But like any three-legged stool, take one leg away and it falls.

It is the Chesapeake Bay Executive Council's job to establish the policies and financing for the restoration and protection of the Bay and its living resources and to be accountable to the public for progress, or lack thereof. The EPA's recent interim milestone assessment suggests that the Bay cleanup is dramatically off course: Since 2009, Bay states have achieved only 29 percent of the nearly 41 million pounds of nitrogen reductions needed by 2017.

When the council meets on July 23, its actions will determine if the stool continues to stand, or whether we are in danger of repeating the decades of failed restoration efforts from the first three Bay agreements. The disappointing progress to date suggests that the stool might soon fall. The council must soon take corrective action, or the legacy of an improving Bay will be lost once again.

Although both Virginia and Maryland are making progress, the EPA's recent assessment suggests that both states face shortfalls.

Virginia missed its target for both nitrogen and phosphorus from urban/suburban runoff. And because of changes in farming production and expected increases in Virginia's poultry industry, the state might have to achieve additional reductions from agriculture.

Because Virginia's plan calls for achieving 79 percent of its pollution reduction from agriculture, CBF calls on the McAuliffe administration to ensure that farmers across the state fence livestock out of streams and plant trees to restore streamside buffers. These and other proven conservation practices not only protect streams and rivers but also boost livestock health and farm bottom lines.

Virginia must also increase funding to help localities reduce polluted runoff from streets, parking lots, lawns and buildings. Urban and suburban runoff is one of the few increasing sources of nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in Virginia.

Maryland data show phosphorus pollution increasing in the Choptank watershed, and the EPA recommends that Maryland consider additional reductions.

With regards to nitrogen pollution, the state missed its 2014 milestone for both agriculture and urban/suburban runoff. The job will not get easier, as new information from the United States Department of Agriculture agricultural census, and population and land use data put Maryland off track to meet its overall nitrogen goals. As in Virginia, polluted runoff from streets, rooftops, and other impervious surfaces remains a pressing issue.

Pennsylvania is the greatest source of nitrogen pollution and missed the mark on its 2012–13 milestones and again in its 2014 nitrogen milestone goal. Not surprisingly, the largest shortfalls are in reducing nitrogen pollution from agriculture and urban/suburban runoff.

The shortfall in Pennsylvania is huge. When we look at how Bay states are coming up short, Pennsylvania is responsible for more than 75 percent of that deficit. And more than 80 percent of Pennsylvania's share of the shortfall comes from agriculture.

While Gov. Tom Wolf and his administration inherited the commonwealth's water quality problems, they are nonetheless responsible for implementing solutions. Pennsylvania needs to aggressively advance efforts to ensure farmers are complying with existing laws. At the current rate of inspections, it will take more than 150 years for each farm in the Bay watershed to be inspected once.

Given that Pennsylvania has repeatedly missed its nitrogen goals, CBF is also calling on the federal government to take action. In 2009, the EPA outlined the consequences that it could impose if jurisdictions do not implement the plans. It is time for the EPA to impose the backstops to ensure pollution is reduced.

The USDA also has a key role to play. President Obama's Executive Order committed the USDA to target funding to key watersheds to assist states in meeting two-year milestones. The USDA must, therefore, target technical and financial resources to help Pennsylvania achieve its goals.

The governors of Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania will all be in office when the 2017 deadline is reached. Their legacy will be determined by the actions they take over the next two years. Their actions need to be solely focused on implementing the Blueprint. The Executive Council can never state that it didn't have adequate forewarning about the challenges we face.

—Will Baker, CBF President

Tell your Governor and EPA in advance of the Chesapeake Bay Executive Council's meeting on July 23 that clean water restoration must move forward!


Susquehanna River: Making the Case for Impairment

A smallmouth bass was found in the Susquehanna River with a large cancerous tumor. Photo by John Arway.

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) image on May 4 of a smallmouth bass with a significant malignant tumor on its lip, left anglers and those who care about water quality speechless.

The fish was caught in November of last year on the Susquehanna River near Duncannon, PA. The PFBC said it is the first time this type of cancer was found on a smallmouth bass in the Commonwealth.

The discovery is another find that illustrates a world-class fishery is suffering.

Anglers first reported diseased and dying smallmouth bass in the river in 2005. Young-of-the-year and adult bass continue to bear sores and lesions, and the population continues to plummet. Researchers have also been finding intersex fish—adult male bass with female eggs in their testes—since the early 2000s.

Now, a fish with cancer.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF), the PFBC and others believe that 98 miles of the lower Susquehanna River must be declared impaired, so that the timeline for its recovery can begin. The Susquehanna provides half of the fresh water that flows into the Chesapeake Bay.

The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has resisted recommending an impaired listing of the river, citing a lack of definitive scientific evidence of the source and cause of the smallmouth bass problem.

CBF's report Angling for Healthier Rivers, concluded that Commonwealth smallmouth bass are threatened by a "perfect storm" of high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus pollution, pesticides, parasites, and hormones in animal and human waste. They also face endocrine disrupting chemicals found in certain herbicides, cosmetics, detergents and medicines.

According to DEP, sediment and nutrient pollution significantly damage 19,000 miles of Pennsylvania's rivers and streams, including those which drain into the Susquehanna. Agriculture is the largest source.

But, there is a plan.

In 2010, EPA established science-based limits on the pollution fouling the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers and streams. States also developed individual plans to achieve those limits and committed to two-year milestones that outline the actions they will take to achieve success. EPA promised consequences for failure. Together, the limits, plans, and milestones make up the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint.

Pennsylvania must accelerate progress if it is to have 60 percent of the pollution reduction practices in place by 2017 and 100 percent by 2025. The Commonwealth's nitrogen and sediment pollution reduction commitments from agriculture and urban polluted runoff are considerably off-track. Pennsylvania appears to be on track to meet its phosphorus reduction goal.

It is imperative that the Commonwealth achieve the pollution reduction goals in the Clean Water Blueprint. A healthy Chesapeake Bay does not exist without a healthy Susquehanna flowing into it.

CBF makes the analogy of smallmouth bass and pollution in the Susquehanna to that of canaries in the coal mines. Caged canaries killed by otherwise undetectable deadly gas, were harbingers of a treacherous environment and miners knew to get out.

CBF and others concerned about the water quality of the Susquehanna and the fishery, would hope that significant scientific data that triggers river impairment and improvement, catches up to the power of images of smallmouth bass with open sores and tumors.

Reducing nitrogen and phosphorus pollution and achieving the goals in the Clean Water Blueprint will not solve the smallmouth bass issue, but doing so will improve water quality and reduce at least one source of stress on the fishery. It will also result in a $6.2 billion return on investment for the Commonwealth.

The smallmouth bass issue is a physical manifestation of the challenges many of Pennsylvania's rivers and streams face. Restoring and protecting our waters will have meaningful impacts to our economy, health, and quality of life.

—B.J. Small, CBF's Pennsylvania Media and Communications Coordinator

Are you a resident of Pennsylvania? Make your voice heard, and tell your County Commissioners to pass a resolution saying Clean Water Counts in Pennsylvania!

When They're Debating the Budget, Wolf and Lawmakers Can't Forget Chesapeake Bay

The following first appeared in the Patriot News.

A boy takes a dip in a creek near Lightstreet, PA. Photo by Michelle Yost.

Amid budget discussions about a natural gas severance tax, increasing personal income and sales taxes, escalating education spending, and infusing distressed pensions, Rep. Garth Everett, R-Lycoming, wanted to know how the Wolf administration plans to meet Pennsylvania's obligation for cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay.

At the House Appropriations Committee hearing on March 11, Acting Department of Environmental Protection Secretary John Quigley agreed that the Commonwealth is off-target for achieving its cleanup milestones and acknowledged the need to "reboot" efforts on behalf of the Bay.

Gov. Tom Wolf's proposed budget includes funding increases for the departments of Environmental Protection, Conservation and Natural Resources, and Agriculture.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation is anxious to learn how those investments will be prioritized and progress accelerated toward meeting the Commonwealth's water quality commitments.

Now part of the appropriations dialog, the critical nature of meeting milestones set forth in the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint must be more than an afterthought.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation urges Wolf and legislators to honor the Commonwealth's commitment when imminent, tough decisions are to be made.

The Clean Water Blueprint for roughly half of the rivers and streams in Pennsylvania that make up the Chesapeake Bay watershed, is a combination of science-based pollution limits for waterways and state-devised cleanup plans, and two-year milestones.

By the end of 2017, the Commonwealth must have 60 percent of the pollution practices outlined in the Blueprint in place.

Unfortunately, a number of recent assessments by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), CBF, and the Choose Clean Water Coalition have all concluded that Pennsylvania's efforts to meet commitments are falling short in key areas—agricultural and urban/suburban polluted runoff.

But Pennsylvania's deficiencies on reducing pollution from agriculture are particularly worrisome.

Let's be clear: Pennsylvania's farmers have made substantial progress in reducing pollution in the last 30 years. We commend them for that. But the science indicates that more needs to be done to clean up our rivers and streams.

In fact, agricultural activities are the largest source of pollution to the Commonwealth's rivers, streams, and the Bay. But on average, it's also the least expensive source of pollution to reduce.

Still, there are estimates that no more than 30 percent of farmers are currently meeting Pennsylvania's existing clean water laws. Some of these rules have been in place for 20 or more years.

A recent EPA report concluded that ensuring farms are meeting existing clean water laws would substantially increase pollution reduction.

But the agency also found that Pennsylvania does not have a consistent approach, a comprehensive strategy, or sufficient resources to ensure farms are meeting existing requirements.

Ensuring farms meet or exceed Pennsylvania's clean water laws requires more than just resources for inspectors, however.

It requires investing resources in outreach and education to farmers about their obligations and, critically, the technical assistance to design and implement pollution reducing practices like streamside forest buffers or barnyard runoff controls.

In his inquiry, Everett asked why Wolf's proposed $675 million bond issue was not dedicated to water quality cleanup, instead of for alternative energy and other uses.

At a recent Senate Appropriations Committee hearing, Sen. Gene Yaw, R-Lycoming, asked the same question.

While Pennsylvania's leaders conduct budget negotiations, it is distressing that elected officials in Congress are proposing deep cuts to the very investments the Commonwealth and our farmers are counting on.

This is simply unacceptable. We call on the Governor, legislature, and Pennsylvania's farmers and conservation community to urge our representatives in Washington not to go down that path.  

Saving the Bay and restoring local water quality will not just benefit us; clean water means a healthier Susquehanna, less flooding, purer drinking water, better health for us and our children, and a legacy for future generations.

Economically, a peer-reviewed report produced for CBF documents a $6.2 billion return on investment if the Commonwealth achieves the Blueprint. 

Pennsylvania cannot afford to backtrack on the right of its people to have clean water. Clean water counts.

There are ramifications should the federal government decide to intervene in order to achieve the clean-up goals. Ratepayers and taxpayers could bear the consequences.

CBF urges our leaders to provide the resources and the will to meet Pennsylvania's commitment to clean water.

—Harry Campbell, CBF's Pennsylvania Executive Director

Are you a resident of Pennsylvania? Make your voice heard, and tell your County Commissioners to pass a resolution saying Clean Water Counts in Pennsylvania!

Council Opts for Reason on Stormwater

The following first appeared in the Capital Gazette.

Stormwater is an issue that can't be ignored. Photo by Krista Schlyer/iLCP.

Is it possible? Has the long stormy winter of "rain tax" propaganda finally passed? Is the spring of reasonable thinking here?

I hope that is the take-away from the April 6 vote by the Anne Arundel County Council to affirm the importance of the county's stormwater fee program. The council rejected two bills that would have repealed the county stormwater fee and the program it enables.

The program, three years in the making, is overhauling the county's vast but long-neglected drainage system. Prior to this program, public dollars traditionally focused on maintaining the sewer or water systems. But when your basement or street floods, or your local creek is too polluted for safe swimming, that's often at least partly due to the poor condition of the county's stormwater system. Runoff from storms doesn't properly drain or filter into the ground. It washes pollutants straight into creeks and rivers.

That all changed in 2013 when the county started collecting a fee dedicated exclusively to improving the stormwater system. Numerous projects are now underway throughout the county as a result of this revenue stream. Had the council voted differently, all those projects would have been canceled.

County Councilmen John Grasso, Andrew Pruski, Pete Smith, and Chris Trumbauer showed real leadership. In voting to continue the county's stormwater upgrade program, these four dismissed the rain tax rhetoric for was it was: electioneering. It swept into Maryland like a nor'easter in 2013, uprooting facts and flooding newspapers with misinformation.

A March 13 statewide poll by OpinionWorks found that the rain tax disinformation campaign in Maryland was clever and effective. The poll found one out of every two Marylanders still believes he or she will be taxed when it rains. Not true, of course. A stormwater fee is similar to any other public utility fee — like paying for garbage collection or sewer service. A stormwater fee charges a mall more than a mom-and-pop grocery because the mall parking lot produces more polluted runoff. But talk of a rain tax was brilliant propaganda.

That's why the April 6 vote was a breath of fresh air. The four councilmen who defeated the repeal didn't just stick their fingers up to gauge the prevailing political winds. Reasonable thinking won out. And there's evidence in other parts of Maryland of the same change in the political climate. The storm is passing.

On March 23, for instance, the Salisbury City Council voted unanimously to start collecting a stormwater fee. The vote was grounded in facts. The city hired the Environmental Finance Center at the University of Maryland to explore ways Salisbury could finance an upgrade of its 105-year-old, badly neglected stormwater system. The EFC concluded a dedicated fee was the smart way to go. Salisbury joins nearly 1,500 communities nationwide that have opted for a stormwater fee to attack polluted runoff.

Also, representatives from Prince George's County spoke out forcefully in legislative hearings this spring to defend their own stormwater program from meddling. That county has estimated that by collecting a stormwater fee it actually could cut costs of upgrading its drainage system by 40 percent. Such fees typically are the preferred means of financing major capital expenses.

We just hope the leadership shown by Anne Arundel, other jurisdictions in Maryland, and across the country will inspire elected officials in places such as Baltimore, Howard, Harford, Carroll, and Frederick counties to finally face facts. Polluted runoff is the main cause of fouled, unhealthy water in many urban and suburban areas of the state. The Maryland Department of the Environment still warns us not to swim in local creeks and rivers for 48 hours after a rainstorm.

A campaign of distortions doesn't actually change the condition of our streams any more than a house of mirrors makes us skinnier. We can only do that by dedicating real dollars to put real projects in the ground.

Let's stop talking and get to work.

—Alison Prost, CBF's Maryland Executive Director

Talbot County Should Fund Ditch Project

The following first appeared in the Star Democrat.

An Eastern Shore road. Photo by Megan Collins.

The Talbot County Council has been presented a golden opportunity. Other local governments would be green with envy at such a gift.

Talbot has been offered the chance to significantly reduce pollution to local creeks and rivers at a cut-rate price. In the expensive world of Chesapeake Bay restoration, it's like winning the lottery.

We urge the county council to take advantage of this opportunity.

The gift-horse in this case is a proposal to convert roadside ditches in the county into pollution filters. Talbot has about 370 miles of county roads that are lined by such trenches. They channel rain water from roads and farm fields into nearby creeks and rivers. The trouble is that runoff in these ditches also contains lots of pollution—oil, exhaust particles, fertilizer, and manure.

The county engineer has proposed a solution—one already proven in other areas of the country. Ditches could be modified slightly to soak up pollution before it reaches the creeks. This is low-tech, common sense, high-efficiency innovation. It's the kind of ingenuity for which Americans were once famous, farmers especially.

Maybe that's why Talbot farmers such as John Swaine, chairman of the board of supervisors at the Talbot Soil Conservation District, are in support of the proposal.

The ditch work would be focused on stretches of ditches where pollution is worst, making the strategy all the more cost effective.

There are several techniques available to turn the ditches into filters. One popular one used widely in agricultural ditches in the Midwest is to enlarge the ditch just enough so runoff has more space and time to soak into the ground. The county, along with The Nature Conservancy and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, have been working on pilot projects to ensure this "two-stage ditch" technology and other similar approaches would work here.

The price to convert 150 of the most polluted ditches would be about $3 million—paid for in small increments over 30 years.

That's a bargain compared to many other strategies to clean up local water. For example, the price tag for upgrading the Easton sewage plant in 2007 was about $40 million. And polluted runoff is a particularly expensive type of pollution to reduce using traditional methods. But under the ditch program, county staff estimated that tens of millions of dollars could be saved over conventional techniques, reducing costs an estimated 90 percent.

The ditch program also could create jobs—for engineers, heavy equipment operators, and laborers.

Given all this you'd think the Talbot County Council would be embracing the proposal whole-heartedly. It's the kind of smart investment any smart businessman would recognize. But the council has not revealed its position.

The council's draft budget for the upcoming fiscal year is being released on April 14. Whether or not that budget will illustrate a firm commitment to cleaning up Talbot's polluted rivers is uncertain. We can only hope the council isn't penny wise and pound foolish.

If the Talbot council rejects the ditch program, the hundreds of miles of trenches will remain a problem. They will continue to sluice pollution straight into our local waters where we swim, where crabs and oysters try to survive.

We hope the council sees the wisdom of spending smart now in order to save money long term.

With rivers such as the Choptank getting more polluted, it's time for action in Talbot County. The ditch program not only is cost effective, it's inspiring. It will provide an example to other communities around Eastern Shore and throughout the region. On the Shore we have plenty of ditches, but too often a shortage of political will to act for clean water.

—Alan Girard, CBF's Eastern Shore Director

Are you a resident of Talbot County? Make your voice heard, and tell the Talbot County Council you support this ditch program!

Talbot County Ditches Can Help Save the Bay

The following first appeared in the Talbot Spy.

An Eastern Shore road. Photo by Megan Collins.

It seems the lowly roadside ditch can have a higher purpose in life—saving the Bay.

Talbot County, and much of the Eastern Shore, is replete with roadside trenches. They are so prevalent along Talbot's 370 miles of rural roads you hardly notice them. They have a humble purpose. They simply channel runoff from roads and farm fields into nearby creeks. But sometimes it's the humble among us who have the greatest promise.

A recent article in the Chesapeake Bay Journal said parts of the Midwest have similar ditches. But in Indiana, Ohio, and other states people have discovered great potential in these otherwise ordinary gullies. The Nature Conservancy, local soil conservation districts, and local governments have discovered the ditches can help clean up storm runoff, not just flush it wholesale into creeks. With a few relatively simple tweaks, the trenches can become "wastewater treatment plants for farms," as one Midwest environmentalist called them.

In one county in Indiana, 11 farmers have reduced nitrate flowing out of their ditches by 31 percent, and phosphorus by 50 percent. Similar projects are underway in 21 counties in Indiana alone.

If only we could do this on the Eastern Shore, the Journal article suggested. Well, guess what? We can. And we are.

The Nature Conservancy, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, and other groups are working with the Talbot County government on pilot programs to modify roadside ditches, so they filter out pollutants that run off roadways and nearby farms.

The Talbot County Council has the opportunity to turn these experimental projects into a full-blown program. That's exciting. Talbot County could be a pioneer on the Shore in this promising, cost-effective method for cleaning up local creeks and rivers. The county is currently eligible to apply for a low-interest loan of about $3 million to do over 150 ditch projects at targeted locations over the coming years. The loan would be paid off in relatively small increments over 30 years. And county staff have estimated that using ditches in this way could save county taxpayers tens of millions of dollars over alternative pollution controls over the long term.

Converting a roadside ditch into a filtration system can be a pretty simple thing. One strategy is to widen the upper portion of the ditch and seed that shoulder area with native grasses and wetland plants. When it rains, water coming off the road spreads up onto the shoulder and soaks in, instead of gushing straight into nearby creeks. The modified ditch is called a "two-stage" ditch.

On a recent day, Talbot farmer John Swaine watched as a backhoe carefully created 400 feet of two-stage ditch along one of his fields adjacent to Bellevue Road in Royal Oak. Swaine, the chairman of the Board of Supervisors of the Talbot Soil Conservation District, agreed to the pilot ditch project on this property because he values clean water. He said he had watched for too many years as brown, muddy water flushed off his fields after a rain storm into the county ditches, and eventually into a creek near his home.

Also watching the construction at Swaine's farm was Talbot County Engineer Ray Clarke. He has proposed to the County Council that this sort of work could easily be underway throughout the county.

"We are in a position where we can make things happen," Clarke said.

The expanded ditch program won't be a "silver bullet," for clean creeks, Clarke said. The county will still need to potentially hook some failing septic systems to sewer lines, continue to upgrade sewage treatment, and take other steps. But simply turning ditches into filtration systems could be one of the more innovative, and cheaper strategies, he said.

The 150 potential ditch improvement sites have been carefully selected as current "hotspots" of high pollution flow. This means the dirtiest water will be cleaned up first. The Nature Conservancy used topographic imagery technology to map the hotspots. That's smart.

The pilot ditch projects suggest a broader program also would create jobs. Dan Kramer, the owner of Sweet Bay Watershed Conservation, the general contractor on the Swaine pilot project, said six men were working on the job. Think of the job creation if the Council approves over 150 projects. That's also smart.

But the Council's view of the proposed ditch program is uncertain. It likely will decide by April 14 whether to include the program in next year's budget.

We urge the Council to undertake this program. It is relatively cheap compared to other strategies for cleaning our water. It is effective. And it will show Talbot is willing to do its share to reduce pollution.

All counties in Maryland have been asked to contribute to meeting the state's goals under the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. That's the plan to make the Chesapeake once again safe for swimming and fishing, with all strategies in place by 2025. But in some Shore counties like Talbot, efforts have been lagging. The Council's approval of the ditch program could help motivate the entire Eastern Shore to do its share for clean water.

—Alan Girard, CBF's Eastern Shore Director

Are you a resident of Talbot County? Make your voice heard, and tell the Talbot County Council you support this ditch program!

Don't Backtrack on the Bay

The following first appeared in the Center Maryland.

RB Rally 1200

A group of more than 200 gathered February 24 in Annapolis at the Rally for Clean Water. Photo by Rob Beach/CBF Staff.

Is there a way for Gov. Hogan and the Maryland General Assembly to find common ground on two controversial environmental issues this year—reducing pollution from excess manure in rural areas, and reducing polluted runoff in urban and suburban parts of the state?

We certainly hope so. Maryland is counting on these two major clean-up measures to continue our progress toward restoring the Chesapeake and our local creeks and rivers.

And while we encourage across-the-aisle problem solving, we at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation will fight forcefully to ensure whatever bills emerge during this legislative session, or whatever regulations are put forth by the Hogan Administration, are strong enough to do the job. Watered-down measures won't get us clean water.

Recent assessments of the Bay's health have found significantly less pollution entering the Maryland part of the Bay, thanks in large part to upgrades at the state's major sewage plants. Marylanders paid for those upgrades and the millions of pounds of reduced pollution they brought through the so-called 'flush fee.'

Now we need to upgrade our stormwater systems. In the Greater Baltimore-D.C. area this is the next major source of water pollution in many creeks and rivers. It's weed-killer, pet waste, oil and other contaminants that wash off the landscape after a storm. It's such a problem that the Maryland Department of the Environment warns Marylanders not to swim in any creeks, stream, river or the Bay for 48 hours after a good summer thunderstorm.

And we need farmers on the Eastern Shore and our rural areas to help by applying the correct amount of manure on crop fields. Currently, about 228,000 tons of excess poultry manure are applied, and phosphorus in the manure ends up in nearby creeks and rivers, according to the Maryland Department of Agriculture. Phosphorus is a major cause of the ‘dead zones' of low oxygen that afflict Eastern Shore rivers such as the Choptank each summer, as well as the Bay at large. A tool developed over 10 years by the University of Maryland would enable farmers to determine the correct amount of manure to apply as fertilizer, without hurting the environment.

Governor Hogan pulled regulations proposed by the O'Malley Administration to address the manure crisis, and on Feb. 23 announced alternative regulations. Thankfully, those regulations recognize the necessity of regulating with the tool, but they include loopholes that allow for potentially indefinite delays of implementation. We cannot accept that. We support, instead, a legislative fix to the manure crisis, SB 257 and HB 381. Those cross-filed bills already represent considerable compromise between environmentalists and agricultural interests, allowing a six-year phase-in of the tool.

CBF also opposes any bills that purport to solve the problem of polluted runoff, without requiring local, dedicated funding. Reducing this type of pollution is expensive work. For decades, Maryland's most populated counties and Baltimore City have been required by state law to adequately fund this work, but they haven't. The General Assembly tried to fix that in 2012 by requiring these 10 populated jurisdictions to collect a dedicated fee. We oppose any attempt to repeal that law, or bills that would merely bring us back to a failed past. We've heard the promises before. We need accountability.

We hope in the coming weeks the General Assembly and the Hogan Administration can work together to forge collaborative, but effective solutions to these issues. Our measure of success cannot be simply that we passed legislation or enacted regulation. Our yardstick of success must be clean water.   

The public demands nothing less. Over 200 people took time off from jobs and families recently to attend a Rally for Clean Water 2015 on Lawyer's Mall. Over 20,000 "Don't Backtrack on the Bay" messages have been sent to Governor Hogan and legislators. When county leaders in Harford held a public hearing to consider repealing the county's polluted runoff fee, residents spoke out for the fee, against a repeal. These are just some of the signs of the public's desire for forceful action.

People understand that cleaner water will bring stronger communities and greater economic prosperity, just as a tide uplifts all boats. Requiring farmers to apply only the necessary amount of manure on fields, for instance, can actually improve the farmer's bottom line in the long run. Various technologies and industries are emerging that can use excess manure, or the phosphorus it contains, for alternative uses. The farmer can profit from doing the right thing.

History will record whether this governor and this General Assembly kept us on track to a healthier Chesapeake Bay. To all lawmakers, we say: Don't Backtrack on the Bay.

—Alison Prost, CBF's Maryland Executive Director

Take action now to remind Gov. Hogan and your state legislators that Maryland has committed to make steady, measurable progress on clean water restoration under the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint.

Let’s Follow Arkansas’, Oklahoma’s Lead in Controlling Phosphorus

The following first appeared in the Bay Journal.

Approximately 228,000 tons of excess poultry manure are applied annually on Maryland's Eastern Shore. Photo courtesy iStock.

On the U.S. farm, necessity has always been the mother of invention. Maybe that's part of the reason the poultry industry along the Arkansas and Oklahoma border has been able to reduce by 75 percent the amount of chicken manure it applies on farm fields in one watershed area.

Necessity in that case was a 2001 court case filed by the city of Tulsa against six poultry companies, upstream municipalities and others. The case, ultimately settled in 2003, claimed excess poultry manure was contaminating city drinking water drawn from the Eucha/Spavinaw watershed. Finding that there were not adequate provisions in statute or regulation, the judge set a limit on soil phosphorus above which no more manure could be applied.

Maryland could learn something from those states. We can achieve all our goals. We can require our chicken growers on the Eastern Shore to reduce the amount of excess manure they apply to crop fields, and we can do it without putting farmers out of business or forcing the poultry industry to flee the region. We can come together to tackle this problem. We don't need a judge, but we need a nudge. We need legislation to prompt action.

For the past few years, Maryland chicken growers have been concerned by the prospect of the regulatory tool known as the Phosphorus Management Tool. The tool is a method developed over 10 years by University of Maryland agriculture scientists that allows farmers to assess the level of phosphorus in their soils so that they can apply the correct and safe amount of manure to their fields.

Maryland wanted to require farmers to use the tool because excess manure application on the Shore causes the same problem in the Choptank, Nanticoke and the Chesapeake as it does in the Eucha/Spavinaw watershed: eutrophication, or slow death, of the water system from lack of oxygen. But the opposition claimed to anyone who would listen that the regulation would cost too much to implement, and that the large poultry companies would up and leave the state.

Gov. Larry Hogan listened. Just hours after taking office, he pulled the regulation before it went into effect. Now the General Assembly is considering a proposed bill that would accomplish the same thing as the shelved regulation.

How unfortunate. We know we need less manure applied to Eastern Shore fields. The Maryland Department of Agriculture estimates 228,000 tons of excess poultry manure are applied each year on the Shore. You might say it's a manure crisis. That's the necessity that should be driving invention. With the phosphorus tool in place, we could move on to finding cost-efficient ways to reduce manure application. Instead, we're back at square one, essentially quibbling over the measuring cup we'll use to bake a cake. With no regulatory option, we must rely on a legislative one.

The good news is that there is such an option. Legislation now before the General Assembly, SB 257 and HB 381, provides six years for us to work out a means to bake that cake. Arkansas and Oklahoma effectively did it in four years. The Western states worked out a plan to truck excess manure out of Eucha/Spavinaw to areas in need of manure.

This is not to say trucking manure out of your watershed is a magic bullet solution. Maryland already redistributes some excess litter, although not nearly enough. The point is the Western states worked out a viable solution without crippling the farming industry. The right amount of manure is now spread on fields. The poultry companies were an integral part of the solution. They should be in Maryland, as well, where the solution could include increased manure redistribution and the widespread use of technologies that extract and use the phosphorus for various purposes.

In fact, we're in far better shape than Arkansas and Oklahoma were at this stage of the game. We have the measuring tool for phosphorus. We don't need a judge to set application limits. Hogan has put funding in his budget that can help with implementation. What we need is legislation. Arkansas and Oklahoma learned that sometimes we all need a push to do the right thing. Years of failed attempts at a voluntary, collaborative solution prompted Tulsa to file its lawsuit. Necessity resulted. Innovation followed. We can do this.

—Alison Prost, CBF's Maryland Executive Director

Remind Gov. Hogan and your state legislators that Maryland has committed to make steady, measurable progress on clean water restoration under the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint.

"Rain Tax:" Easy to Demonize, But Critical to Clean Water

The following first appeared in The Dagger.

One of the many consequences of polluted runoff is flooding. Seen here is silted stormwater runoff from residential construction in Mount Rainier, MD. Photo by Krista Schlyer/iLCP.

The so-called "rain tax" is easy to demonize. It makes a convenient political target ("Governor Larry Hogan Introduces Legislation to Repeal ‘Rain Tax,'" Feb. 12). What's harder is to help people understand the reason for the fee, and the risk to Baltimore and Harford counties of reducing the fee or getting rid of it altogether.

First, some history. The 2012 law requiring ten jurisdictions to establish some level of fee came after years of frustration. Since the early 1990's, the ten jurisdictions have been required by the federal Clean Water Act to meet specific goals to reduce polluted runoff. The federal law singled out these 10 jurisdictions because polluted runoff is often the biggest source of water pollution to urban and suburban rivers and creeks, and because specific rivers in these localities were badly fouled.

In the Patapsco River, for instance, about 23 percent of the nitrogen pollution and 69 percent of sediment pollution comes from the lawn fertilizer, pet waste, construction site dirt and other contaminants that run off the landscape after a storm. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has declared the Patapsco, as well as other rivers in Baltimore County as "impaired" with too much pollution, including the Gunpowder River, Lower Gunpowder Falls, Middle River, Back River, and Jones Falls.

In Harford County, the Bush River, Lower Winters Run, Atkisson River, and Bynum Run are impaired, along with the Gunpowder, according to EPA. Runoff is a major culprit. In the Bush River, for instance, about 34 percent of nitrogen pollution is from polluted runoff.

What does this mean for residents of these counties? This past summer a scientist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation took some water samples after a major rain storm at a popular swimming hole located on a tributary of the Gunpowder River in Baltimore County. Swimmers didn't realize it but the water had bacteria counts as high as 36 times the safe level set by the EPA.

But the problem is the nine counties and Baltimore City have not reduced their polluted runoff sufficiently. Most have fallen short of goals set by the state, Harford particularly. Money is the issue. When it comes time to budget funds, cleaning up rivers and streams understandably gets short shrift compared to paying teachers, or maintaining water pipes. Before the 2012 law, for instance, Harford was reducing substantially its funding for pollution reduction. The negligence jeopardizes human health in these localities. The runoff problem also causes economic damage, such as flooding. It also prevents the state of Maryland from meeting its commitments to clean up the Chesapeake Bay.

Given all this, the Maryland General Assembly decided in 2012 it had to act. It required the 10 jurisdictions to collect a fee that would be dedicated only to reducing runoff. The money couldn't be hijacked for some other purpose. At the counties' request, the legislature gave them and Baltimore City flexibility to set the size of the fee, and the means of collection. One size doesn't fit all, the counties argued.

As a result the fee was set at various levels, with Frederick showing its disdain by approving a one penny fee, and Carroll County refusing to collect any stormwater fee. Both counties promised to reduce polluted runoff using other revenues. Recently, Harford leaders voted to do the same, and Baltimore County is expected to significantly reduce its fee. Governor Hogan also has proposed legislation to repeal the entire 2012 law.

So where does that leave us? Back at square one. We have promises from the ten jurisdictions that they now will do the work, promises that they failed to keep for years prior to the 2012 law. It also means that in places such as Baltimore County critical new programs funded from the stormwater fee likely will now be demolished or downsized. For instance, the county's Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability has an outstanding tree-planting program to reforest 1,500 acres of the suburban county by 2025. Trees planted in key drainage areas are one of the most cost-effective means of reducing polluted runoff. Will that program survive now?

The 2012 law provides some accountability for reduced pollution. Without the law, we will have nothing more than promises. Again. But words will do nothing to make the rivers of Baltimore and Harford counties clean again.

We urge citizens to tell their state delegates and senators not to repeal the 2012 law, and to tell county leaders to reinstate a reasonable-sized fee to tackle a long-neglected problem.

—Alison Prost, CBF's Maryland Executive Director

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.