Panel Provides Overview of Key Water Issues at MACo January 2015 Winter Conference

Speakers briefed MACo January 2015 winter conference attendees on four key water issues during the “Treacherous Shoals: Navigating the Murky Depths of Water Issues” session.  Recently, there have been many state and federal water requirements that directly affect county governments.

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Chesapeake Bay Foundation Maryland Executive Director Alison Prost discussed the legal framework of the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) – the federally mandated “pollution diet” for the Bay and its tributaries.  Prost discussed the origin and format of the Bay TMDL, including the legal settlement that set much of the TMDL’s format.  The TMDL imposes specific pollution reductions on the State, which in turn has placed specific reduction goals on the counties.  She noted that Maryland is still working through its water pollution reduction requirements, but is not facing potential sanctions like Pennsylvania.

AquaLaw attorney Christopher Pomeroy explained Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) permits that are issued to certain counties under direction from the Maryland Department of the Environment.  The permits regulate stormwater runoff and the latest round of permits are among the most stringent in the nation.  Pomeroy provided an update to the litigation that currently surrounds the Phase I MS4 permits that are issued to the larger counties in Maryland.  The litigation could dictate how counties must comply with the permits and federal water quality standards, potentially imposing significant or impossible costs on county governments.

Best Best & Kriger attorney Andre Monette discussed the pending rulemaking by the United States Environmental Protection Agency that would change the definition of “waters of the United States” under the federal Clean Water Act.  He explained that a change to the definition would essentially the scope of the Act by potentially adding manmade drainage ditches or canals.  The proposed rule may also bring in storm drain systems and rain gardens.  Counties manage both these types of systems.

Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Climate Policy Program Manager Zoe Johnson discussed the threat posed by sea level rise and storm surges to Maryland’s coastal areas to private development and public infrastructure. DNR has developed strategies to address land use, transportation, and infrastructure planning and works with vulnerable local communities.  This can include planning changes, shoreline & buffer management, and bulding code changes.  She also mentioned the CoastSmart Communities Grant program.

Frederick County Executive Jan Gardner moderated the panel.

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