The BRF – A Lifeboat for the Chesapeake at #MACoCon

A panel of state, county, and environment stakeholders discussed the past, present, and potential future of the Bay Restoration Fund (BRF) at the 2015 MACo Summer Conference on August 13.

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(Jag Khuman (standing) outlines the history of the BRF while (sitting from left to right) John Beskid, Barbara Frush, and Erik Fisher listen)

The Department of the Environment’s Maryland Water Quality Financing Administration Director Jag Khuman provided an overview and history of the BRF.  Discussing the use of the BRF to upgrade major wastewater treatment plants to enhanced nutrient removal, he noted that by FY 2016 $1.25 billion has been spent or placed in reserved to finish the upgrades and that there is no money needed for further major upgrades in the upcoming budget. He also discussed legislative changes to the BRF made by HB 156/ SB 133 of the 2015 Session.  The legislation allowed for an increased use of the BRF to address combined sewer overflow abatement and rehabilitation and modified the BRF’s funding priority criteria for septic system upgrades, stormwater management, and combined sewer overflow and sewer abatement projects beginning in FY 2018. It also modified MDE’s funding decision process and expanded the scope of eligible local stormwater projects.

Kent County Director of Environmental Health John Beskid explained how Kent County has used BRF funding and how the program has evolved over time. He noted that septic systems account for 3% of the runoff in the county, with most of the rest coming from agriculture.  The County has received $4.7 million in BRF funding through FY 2016 and Beskid highlighted some of the important best available nitrogen removal technology septic system upgrades Kent County has done with the BRF funding.

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(A full crowd was on hand for the BRF discussion)

Chesapeake Bay Foundation Maryland Land Use Planner Erik Fisher focused on two key questions: (1) what can the BRF be and not be; and (2) how can we use the BRF effectively.  He argued the BRF can be a gap closer and leverage creator and cannot be a substitute for other funding sources or a “slush fund” to meet Total Maximum Daily Load requirements.  When discussing the BRF’s effectiveness, Fisher stressed that the BRF needed flexibility, prioritization, and a supportive context.  He stated the BRF’s uses could be expanded to  help target local water quality nitrogen and phosphorus issues.  For stormwater, local matches needed to be maintained and stormwater projects should be limited to retrofits and not be used to offset new loads.  For agriculture, cover crop spending should be re-evaluated and other agricultural practices considered for BRF eligibility (grass buffers, forest planting, etc.) Finally, he stressed counties need to have their own ongoing programs and funding and the State needs to have regulations and incentives for growth management.

Maryland Delegate Barbara Frush moderated the panel.

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