The House Environment and Transportation Committee held a briefing on the state of the Chesapeake Bay on January 17, 2018. The “State of the Bay” briefing has become an annual fixture in the Committee. Presenters highlighted the positive progress that is resulting from Bay restoration efforts but also stressed ongoing challenges, including further reducing nitrogen run-off and addressing urban/suburban stormwater runoff, the Conowingo Dam, climate change, and Aligning for Growth.
Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) Executive Director Alison Prost and Chesapeake Bay Commission Maryland Director Mark Hoffman were the primary presenters, with CBF Maryland Staff Attorney Elaine Lutz joining in to answer several questions posed by Committee members.
Prost noted that based on data through 2016, Bay grass coverage and dissolved oxygen levels were both up and 40% of the Bay’s segments under the Total Maximum Daily Load were meeting water quality standards – a record level. However, Prost noted that meant 60% of the segments were not meeting their TMDL targets and Bay states needed to collectively remove 50 million pounds more nitrogen by 2025 to meet the TMDL goal.
Prost noted that in Maryland, urban/suburban stormwater runoff is now a significant hurdle that must be addressed. Lutz explained that counties subject to Phase I Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) are failing to meet their permit goals. Lutz acknowledged that the time and complexity of completing stormwater remediation projects was playing a significant role in the county shortfall. Lutz noted that CBF was working with both the Maryland Department of the Environment and the affected counties to try to solve the problem before the next round of MS4 permits are issued. Lutz stated that more prescriptive and direct progress goals are needed in the permit while allowing for some local flexibility and that the goals should be based on number of pollutant pounds reduced as opposed to the amount of impervious surface treated. Finally, Lutz said that the new MS4 permits will also include nutrient credit trading.
Regarding septic systems, a chart Prost presented showed that West Virginia was doing better than Maryland in reducing nitrogen pollution from septic systems. Prost explained that in part that was because Maryland set “high and lofty goals” for septic reductions while West Virginia set lower targets and that the portion of West Virginia in the Bay watershed has less population than Maryland. Prost speculated that Maryland may shift some load targets from septic systems to other sectors as the state enters Phase 3 of Bay TMDL. Prost also noted that many counties have focused on hooking groups of failing septics up to public sewer in order to maximize their return on investment.
Hoffman touched on several issues that must be accounted for in the 3rd and final Phase of the Bay TMDL:
- Conowingo Dam: Hoffman stated that the additional pollution running through the Conowingo Dam from the Susquehanna River will be accounted for in the Phase 3 pollution reduction targets. The pollutants will be addressed through a separate collaborative plan – the additional loads will not just be assigned to Maryland and Pennsylvania.
- Climate Change: Climate change brings both negatives and positives to Bay restoration efforts. As more research is being conducted, climate change will initially be narrowly incorporated into the Phase 3 Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs). Actual loads based on climate change will be added in 2022-23.
- Aligning for Growth: The Phase 3 WIPs and Bay Model will incorporate 2025 growth projections based on current zoning. These projections will affect the Phase 3 pollution reduction targets.
- Funding: Hoffman noted that Bay state funding outstrips federal funding by a 3 to 1 margin but that federal funding remains critical to the success of the Bay TMDL.