Baltimore County Reactivates Street Sweeping Program To Reduce Stormwater Runoff Pollution

October 31, 2014

An October 28 Baltimore Sun article reported that Baltimore County has used revenues collected from the County’s stormwater remediation fee (also called the “rain tax” by opponents) to revive a street-sweeping program that keeps road dirt and debris from contaminating stormwater runoff.

Since May, the county has collected 562 tons of debris with the street-sweeping trucks, resulting in a pollution reduction that officials said equates to 843 pounds of nitrogen, 337 pounds of phosphorus and 168 tons of suspended solids — tiny particles of dirt that cloud the water.   …

“This program would not have happened without implementation of the stormwater fee,” County Executive Kevin Kamenetz said before hopping behind the wheel of a public works street-sweeping truck for a demonstration at Wilson Point Park in Middle River.  …

The county is spending $1.6 million in the first year of the sweeping program, which represents about 5 percent of the stormwater fees collected from property owners.

The article also noted that the County is also using stormwater fee revenue to clearing storm drains, stream restoration, and tree plantings.


2014 Regional WIP Workshops Will Discuss Stormwater, Conowingo, Phosphorus

October 31, 2014

The Harry R. Hughes Center for Agro-Ecology will be holding its fall 2014 regional Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP) Workshops in November.  From the Center:

As previously announced by the Maryland Department of the Environment, a series of regional WIP workshops is scheduled for November 2014. The workshops will cover progress made by Maryland and neighboring states, Milestone Evaluations (both State and local), what’s new on Tracking and Reporting, the latest on nutrient Trading to offset new loads and to accelerate reductions, Key Dates (Schedules), Urban Nutrient Management, and updates on topics like the licensing of Conowingo Dam, and the Phosphorus Management Tool [PMT] regulations. In addition, there will be a session on funding opportunities which describe how different grants are designed to be mutually supportive as well as examples of projects that have been implemented using these funding sources.  The workshop will also include a session highlighting counties’ innovative uses of monies collected from their stormwater fees as well as other projects that have been implemented by the counties and municipalities to move their work forward.

The workshops are being sponsored by the Harry R. Hughes Center for Agro-Ecology of the University of Maryland and funded by the Town Creek Foundation so there is no cost to you to participate. The dates and locations for the workshops are listed below. The doors will open at 9:15 am with the meeting hours beginning at 10:00 am and concluding by 3:30 PM. Continental breakfast and lunch will be served. We hope that you will be able to attend the event in your area.

 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Southern Maryland (Anne Arundel, Calvert, Charles, Prince George’s, St. Mary’s counties)

College of Southern Maryland, BI113, 8730 Mitchell Road, La Plata, MD 20646

Southern Maryland Registration

 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Central Maryland (Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Carroll, Harford, Howard, Montgomery counties)

Overhills Mansion, 916 South Rolling Road,Catonsville, MD 21228

Central Maryland Registration

 

Friday, November 14, 2014

Lower Eastern Shore (Dorchester, Somerset, Wicomico, Worcester counties)

Wicomico Youth and Civic Center, Flanders Room, 500 Glen Avenue, Salisbury, MD 21804

Lower Eastern Shore Registration

 

Monday, November 17, 2014

Western Maryland (Allegany, Frederick, Garrett, Washington counties)

Walkersville Social Hall, 79 West Frederick Street, Walkersville, Maryland 21793

Western Maryland Registration

 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Upper Eastern Shore (Caroline, Cecil, Kent, Queen Anne’s, Talbot counties)

The Milestone, 9630 Technology Drive, Easton, MD 21601

Upper Eastern Shore Registration

 

Please use the link at the appropriate location to register. Please register as soon as possible so we have adequate materials, refreshments, and space to accommodate all of the attendees and to assure we can address your specific interests and needs. If you have trouble registering, please call or email Nancy Nunn at (410) 827-6202, ext. 128 or nnunn@umd.edu.

 


Prince George’s County Program Offers Nonprofits and Churches Way to Reduce Stormwater Fee

October 30, 2014
 An October 23 Prince George’s County bulletin announced the launch of the County’s Alternative Compliance Program (ACP), which provides options for nonprofits and churches for reducing their county stormwater fee by implementing best management practices to treat stormwater runoff or assisting with the county’s stormwater outreach and education program. New Redeemer Baptist Church in Forestville will be the ACP’s first participant and test case.  From the bulletin:

Prince George’s County Deputy Chief Administrative Officer for Economic Development and Public Infrastructure Victor L. Hoskins remarked that he was excited about the County’s introduction of the Program.  “Prince George’s County is taking a major step in making a change toward our environment,” said Hoskins.  “This public-faith partnership shows what can happen when like-minded people in government and the private sector come together to make a huge change for the better.”

Jon Capacasa, Director of the EPA Water Protection Division Mid-Atlantic Region added that backing programs such as the ACP will put us in a much better position in restoring and protecting water quality for the future.  “It’s important that we continue to explore clean water initiatives that will assist us in meeting the challenges we face ahead,” says Capacasa.

The bulletin also explained how the ACP works:
The ACP contains three options that provide qualified organizations with a reduction in their Clean Water Act Fee (CWAF).  One option provides the County a right-of-entry agreement to install stormwater best management practices (BMPs) on property owned by the organization.  This option provides groups with a 50 percent reduction on their CWAF.  The second option requires groups to assist the County with their Rain Check Rebate outreach and education campaign.  This initiative raises awareness of water quality issues to the community at large and provides rebates to eligible applicants for installing approved stormwater management practices. In addition, groups agree to create a green ministry to teach the importance of environmental stewardship.  Groups that participate in this option can earn a 25 percent reduction in their fee.  The third option asks property owners to utilize certified green lawn companies for the proper use and application of fertilizers on their lawns for the protection of water quality.  This option also provides a 25 percent reduction.

For more information about the ACP, click here.


Carroll County And Municipalities to Consolidate Stormwater Plans

October 15, 2014

Seeking to address costly stormwater projects driven by federal permit requirements, Carroll County and its eight municipal governments are set to reframe their separate management structure and engage under one consolidated federal permit from the US Environmental Protection Administration.

From Carroll County Times coverage:

Under the proposed agreement, the costs of stormwater mitigation projects within the boundaries of the municipalities would be split, with the county paying for 80 percent and the municipalities paying 20 percent. Roughly $9 million in anticipated costs would be the responsibility of the county, while the municipalities would be responsible for about $2.2 million in anticipated costs.

In addition, the county government also would be responsible for covering the full amount of stormwater management projects outside the municipal borders, adding $12 million to the county’s projected total.

Read the full article online at the Carroll County Times website.

 


Stormwater Fee Tax Break A Topic of Contention in Anne Arundel County Races

October 2, 2014

A September 28 Capital-Gazette article reported that the stormwater remediation fee (or “rain tax” as it is called by its opponents) remains a topic of debate in local Anne Arundel County races.  The article noted, however, that the discussion has turned from an outright repeal of the fee to a proposal by Republican county executive candidate Steve Schuh to provide a 3%/$18 million property tax cut that would offset the amounts being collected through the county’s stormwater fee.

Schuh said his plan “will be to work around the county legislation to relieve taxpayers of the burden of the stormwater bill through the property tax.”  …

“It is a down payment on a long-term effort to reduce taxes and fees to further reduce the burden on taxpayers,” Schuh said,

[Schuh's Democratic opponent George] Johnson and others said such a flat-out commitment to a tax cut would be irresponsible.

“If the tax surplus is less than his projections, where is the money going to come from?” Johnson said. “Will he cut teachers’ pay? Or the number of police officers, firefighters, detention officers? Will county employees have to suffer furloughs again?”

The article also reported on an exchange between incumbent County Council Member Chris Trumbauer and his opponent, Dean D’Camera regarding whether the fee should be labeled as a “rain tax” and the merits of the fee.


Issue Overview – County MS4 Stormwater Permit Litigation

September 18, 2014

As previously reported on Conduit Street, various environmental groups have initiated lawsuits challenging the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Phase I Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) permits that the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) has been issuing to certain counties.  This issue summary provides an overview of the topic and explains MACo’s position.

What is a NPDES MS4 Permit?

The NPDES MS4 permit system was created by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1990.  The permits are required for certain local governments (counties and municipalities) and the Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) and dictate the water quality standards the permitted entity must comply in treating and preventing stormwater runoff.  The stormwater runoff requirements are based on water quality standards set under the federal Clean Water Act (CWA) and the permits have a 5-year term.  In Maryland, MDE sets individual permit requirements and issues the permits, subject to EPA sign-off.

MS4 permits are divided into Phase I and Phase II categories.  Phase I permits apply to “large” local governments (those with a with a population greater than 250,000), “medium” local governments (those with a population between 100,000 and 250,000), and SHA.  The permit requires them to treat or prevent pollution in stormwater runoff to the maximum extent practicable (MEP) in order meet federal water quality standards under the Clean Water Act (CWA).  In Maryland, the following entities are subject to a Phase I permit:  SHA, Baltimore City, and Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Charles, Frederick, Harford, Howard, Montgomery, and Prince George’s Counties.

The EPA created Phase II stormwater requirements in 1999.  The permits apply to certain local governments that have a population of at least 1,000.  A Phase II permit holder must implement six measures:  (1) public education and outreach; (2) public participation and involvement; (3) illicit discharge detection and elimination; (4) construction site runoff control; (5) post-construction runoff control; and (6) pollution prevention/good housekeeping.  In Maryland, Cecil and Washington Counties and approximately 60 municipalities are subject to Phase II permits.

MDE NPDES Permit Webpage

Why is there litigation?

The current round of NDPES MS4 permits are the first that must also account for additional requirements under the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Load (TMDL).  The first permit to come up for renewal under the Bay TMDL requirements was Montgomery County’s.  After considering how to best incorporate the TMDL requirements, MDE issued a permit renewal to the County in 2010, with EPA’s sign off.  The permit required the County undertake stormwater retrofits on 20% of existing impervious surfaces.

A consortium of environmental groups, including the Anacostia Riverkeeper, Potomac River Keeper, Friends of the Earth, Waterkeeper Alliance, and others challenged the permit, first administratively and then in Maryland circuit court.  The groups alleged the new permit did not meet the CWA and TMDL water quality requirements and lacked needed specificity.

Other environmental groups have since brought similar legal challenges against the MS4 permits for Baltimore City and Anne Arundel, Baltimore, and Prince George’s Counties.

The Circuit Court Decision

Initially the circuit court dismissed the petitioners’ complaint, but the Court of Special Appeals reinstated the claim and remanded the case back to circuit court.  In Anacostia Riverkeeper v. Maryland Department of the Environment (Case No. 339-466-V), the circuit court then found for the petitioners and against MDE and Montgomery County.

The circuit court cited a lack of specific benchmarks, deadlines, and monitoring  provisions in the permit, noting that reliance on best management practices from manuals or other outside policies was insufficient.   The court also concluded that the permit “must include requirements needed to meet water quality standards” under the CWA, state law, and federal regulations.  The conclusion seemed to imply that a strict compliance standard should apply, rather than the traditional MEP.

Circuit Court Opinion and Order

Why Should Counties Care?

If interpreted broadly, the circuit court’s decision could move MS4 permit standards away from the MEP standard, which includes an analysis of cost and feasibility, to a strict compliance standard, which disregards cost and would hold counties liable for meeting their water quality standards no matter how costly or infeasible.

The Court of Special Appeals’ decision in this case will likely apply to all Phase I and Phase II MS4 permit holders and could influence the ongoing MS4 litigation in other counties.

Where is the Case Now?

Subsequent to the circuit court decision MDE and Montgomery County appealed to the Court of Special Appeals.  MDE and Montgomery County have submitted their opening briefs and the Anacostia Riverkeeper has filed its response.

MDE Opening Brief

Montgomery County Opening Brief

Riverkeeper Response to MDE Appeal

What is MACo’s Position?

Counties should comply with the federally-mandated CWA and TMDL requirements, including those incorporated into the MS4 permit process and MACo believes that counties are investing significant resources and effort towards that goal.  However, MACo is concerned that the circuit court ruling could create impossible compliance timelines and eliminate the cost analysis that has traditionally been part of the MEP standard.

Accordingly, MACo joined an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief that was coordinated by the Maryland Municipal Stormwater Association (MAMSA) in support of the State’s position.  Besides MAMSA and MACo, other brief participants included the National Association of Clean Water Agencies, Wet Weather Partnership, and Baltimore County.

The brief highlighted the consequences of moving from the traditional MEP standard to a strict compliance standard:

To County Amici’s knowledge, the Circuit Court’s Opinion and Order accepting Petitioners’ argument is the first time that any federal or state court in the United States has ruled that the CWA requires MS4 permits to mandate strict compliance with water quality standards. Instead, the statute provides a different legal standard for MS4s – that pollutant discharges be reduced to the “maximum extent practicable,” or “MEP” for short….Unless reversed, the Circuit Court’s Opinion and Order will have harsh financial impacts on Maryland’s families and businesses. It will effectively require MDE to force local governing bodies to raise stormwater utility rates and taxes – to whatever amount is needed – to attempt in a mere five years the monumental task of reversing the effects of centuries of real estate development on water quality in urban and suburban areas so as “to meet water quality standards.”

The Anacostia Riverkeeper and other appellees took the somewhat unusual step of petitioning the Court of Special Appeals to reject the amicus brief, alleging that the brief is misleading, will not aid the court’s decision, and presses a legal position that contradicts the stated position of MDE and Montgomery County.  In the opposition, the appellees did clarify that they are not seeking to have counties comply with all water quality standards within the 5-year life span of the MS4 permit:

Nothing in the Montgomery County Circuit Court’s decision mandates or even suggests that the County must comply with all applicable water quality standards within five years…Nor have Appellees made such a claim in this litigation.

MAMSA and the other amici  challenged the opposition, arguing that amicus brief satisfied the Court’s desirability requirement, did not intentionally misrepresent the Riverkeepers’ position, did not introduce new arguments, and properly cited cost and practicability sources.

The Court of Special Appeals has provisionally accepted the MAMSA amicus brief and also accepted an amicus brief filed by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

MAMSA & Local Government Amicus Brief

Riverkeeper Opposition to Amicus Brief

MAMSA Response to Riverkeeper Opposition

Conclusion

This case could have significant consequences for counties subject to MS4 permits.  MACo will continue to monitor and report on the case as it moves forward.

For further information, please contact MACo Legal and Policy Analyst Les Knapp (lknapp@mdcounties.org or 410.269.0043).


Frederick County Candidates Debate Stormwater Fee Issues

September 18, 2014

A September 17 Frederick News-Post article reported that Frederick County executive and council candidates are debating a variety of issues related to the state-mandated stormwater remediation fee (referred to as a “Rain Tax” by its opponents).  While some of the issues, such as whether the fee should exist at all, seem more defined by partisan lines, other concerns are being raised by candidates from both parties.  Currently, the County has enacted a 1-cent fee that the Maryland Department of the Environment has indicated will not be sufficient to meet the County’s expected stormwater remediation costs under the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load or the County’s pending Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System permit.

One area of shared concern is the cost to Frederick County taxpayers for stormwater remediation:

County staff have estimated that the local cost to meet state watershed goals could total $1.88 billion by 2025. The county’s five-year storm water permit, which is now being renewed through the state, could come with a price tag of $142.3 million, said Shannon Moore, who manages the county’s office of sustainability and environmental resources.

County Executive candidate Jan Gardner stated that the stormwater remediation costs need to be addressed:

 Whether the county finds this money through the stormwater fee or in its general fund, taxpayers are ultimately footing the bill, Gardner said. She noted that the current cost estimate for the permit breaks down to more than $28 million annually, more than the county budgets for its public works division.

Gardner said she’s not ready to suggest where the county might find money to deal with the additional cost burden. First, elected leaders should collaborate with state officials to make the permit less expensive, she said.

The article also noted that many candidates were concerned about the science behind the targets.

Gardner, [County Executive candidate Blaine] Young and a number of council candidates also question the accuracy of the scientific assumptions that underpin cleanup targets. Linda Norris, a Democratic candidate for a council at-large seat, says she’s open to adjusting the fee so long as the county isn’t required to pay more than its share.

“I don’t mind asking citizens to pay for a community need, but I want to make sure I’m asking for the right amount,” she said.

Young cited concerns over the science when voicing his opposition to the stormwater fee in the article: “I don’t think the residents of Frederick County should be having to foot the bill for what others have done, especially when it’s based on faulty studies and science. With me, it’s non-negotiable.”  The article also noted that some candidates like County Council candidate Billy Shreve believe that other Bay watershed states, such as Pennsylvania, must be held accountable for their pollution contributions.

 


CBF Offers Fact Sheet on Charging Federal Facilities Stormwater Fees

August 22, 2014

Chesapeake Bay Foundation - Saving a National Treasure

 

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) published a fact sheet explaining how local governments can subject federal facilities to their stormwater management fees.  The fact sheet briefly covers the history of stormwater fees in Maryland and adjoining states and then analyzes the federal Clean Water Act and the holding of a 2012 federal District Court case, U.S. v. City of Renton.  The fact sheet concludes:

 

CBF urges counties and municipalities to review assessments of stormwater fees on federal facilities in light of this important court case and the federal law’s legislative history. Both indicate that, under the federal Clean Water Act, local jurisdictions across the Bay watershed that have local stormwater fee systems may charge the same reasonable fees to federal agencies with facilities within their jurisdictions as to nongovernmental entities there, and federal agencies are obligated to pay such fees in the same manner and to the same extent as nongovernmental entities. Such fair share contributions can be very helpful in assisting local governments pay for local polluted runoff abatement programs.

  


Environmental Groups Challenge County MS4 Stormwater Permits

July 17, 2014

A July 11 Baltimore Sun B’More Green article reported that various in-state and out-of-state environmental groups have initiated lawsuits challenging the  National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Phase I Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) permits that the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) is issuing to certain counties.  The article noted that groups have challenged the permits for Baltimore City and Anne Arundel, Baltimore, and Prince George’s Counties.

The [environmental] groups argue that the state-issued permits are so vague they are unenforceable, and without more teeth they  will allow pollution problems to continue. The shortcomings will leave local waters unsafe to swim in and unable to support fish, crabs and shellfish, the groups contend, and will  hinder restoration of the Chesapeake Bay.

State officials have defended what they call “next generation” pollution-control permits that they say significantly strengthen storm-water cleanup efforts in Maryland’s largest communities. The permits require each locality to retrofit 20 percent of its streets, alleys, parking lots and buildings over the next five years to prevent polluted runoff. Local officials must develop “enforceable implementation plans” for meeting water-quality standards, according to a release on MDE’s website.

The groups argue that by leaving the details of what each locality must do until later, the state risks delays and shortcomings in reducing storm-water pollution, a significant and growing threat to cleaning up the bay.

These challenges follow a successful legal challenge brought last year against the MS4 permit that MDE issued to Montgomery County.  The circuit court found against MDE, citing the lack of specific benchmarks and deadlines.  The State has appealed the ruling to Maryland Court of Special Appeals and MACo will be participating in an amicus brief effort coordinated by the Maryland Municipal Stormwater Association (MAMSA) in support of the State’s position.  Decisions in the Montgomery County case, as well as the four more recent cases, will likely affect those counties needing Phase II MS4 permits from the State.

The article also noted a recent assessment by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is critical of Maryland’s stormwater management efforts:

The EPA said the state also was too shorthanded to keep tabs on localities’ efforts to reduce polluted runoff from existing buildings and pavement. And in a finding that appears to echo environmentalists’ complaints, the federal assessment called for state regulators to include “more-enforceable schedules” in the storm-water pollution permits it issues to localities.


Experimental Agricultural Stormwater Management System Yields Promising Results

July 10, 2014

While stormwater runoff management is primarily perceived as an urban issue, Maryland’s agricultural community also faces stormwater management requirements under the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load.  A July 2 Star Democrat article reported on the recent and favorable findings regarding an experimental agricultural stormwater management system.

After implementing an agricultural stormwater cascading system on his farm near Chestertown in 2011, new data shows that Samuel Owings’s self-constructed system is fulfilling its purpose to reduce agricultural runoff from flowing into the Hambleton Creek, Chester River and Chesapeake Bay.  …

The cascading system is a series of four basins that are between 35 to 45 feet wide and 120 to 170 feet long. Using grass seed, starter fertilizer, curlex and natural vegetation, the system is placed in a grass waterway and drainage ditch and begins at higher elevations and moves toward lower elevations with the last basin placed at the edge of an existing wetland and pond.

With the assistance of grant funding, University of Maryland graduate student and research assistant Rosie Myers completed half of a two-year analysis of the effectiveness of Owings cascading system.  Myers derived her conclusions based on collected data from nine storm events (about 1/3 of last year’s storm events for the Queen Anne’s County region where Owings’ farm is located).

Looking at all nine storm events, Myers said 64 percent of the water that entered the system did not leave, and cited an 11 percent reduction in nitrogen and a 5 percent reduction in phosphorus. She then excluded the two largest storm events from her data, and the system showed over a 95 percent efficiency rate, which she attributed to the large washouts re-suspending and discharging sediment and nutrients captured from earlier storms.

“If it can reduce the washouts from the basins, this can be a very efficient system,” Myers said.  …

The cascading system brings many benefits to agricultural environments, Owings said, as it uses little or no tillable land; traps and filters sediment, nitrogen and phosphorus; provides instant gratification; uses simplistic materials such as grass seed and starter fertilizer; replenishes groundwater; is easily replicated by other farmers; creates wildlife habitation; creates top soil as a byproduct; and recycles phosphorus by spreading it back on farm fields.

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