As previously reported on Conduit Street, the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) has convened a stakeholders workgroup to consider the creation of a new water appropriations fee that would generate several million dollars a year by charging a fee on certain high-consumption water users. The workgroup met for its second time on October 22. The meeting included numerous stakeholders, including energy generation firms, agriculture, golf course owners, and local governments — each operators of facilities that wold be subject to any of the several potential fee regimes contemplated by MDE staff. Following substantive discussion by the numerous parties, a clear lack of “consensus” had emerged, and participants were encouraged to continue to study the fee recommendations, but without the scheduling of further meetings of the workgroup.
The workgroup follows up on legislation from the 2012 session, where SB 635 initially sought to create a new permit fee structure for large water users. That bill was amended in the Senate to simply create a study group to address those issues, but even that proposal was rejected by the House of Delegates, and the bill was defeated. Despite the legislative setback, MDE staff convened the working group to evaluate the related issues during the 2012 interim.
The proposals to raise additional funds for MDE permitting and enforcement arise from, among other places, recommendations of a recent Commission chaired by the late Dr. M. Gordon “Reds” Wolman. That report calls for greater attention to water users and enforcement of various existing laws and regulations, to further protect water supply resources. Among the wide range of recommended spending items sought by MDE was technical assistance for local governments in implementing the water resource element of local comprehensive plans, though in the process of scaling back the overall costs of the proposed efforts, that area was abridged from $2.2 million to roughly $800,000 in annual funding.