Bay Restoration Progress & Phase III WIPs Debated at 2019 Summer #MACoCon

L to R: Lisa Ochsenhirt, Alison Prost, Ben Grumbles, Kumar Barve, and Mark Hoffman

Different perspectives were offered on Maryland’s new Phase III Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP) during the “Endgame: Can Our Phase III WIP Meet Our Bay Restoration Goals?” panel on August 16 at the 2019 MACo Summer Conference.

Maryland Secretary of the Environment Ben Grumbles presented an overview of the WIP approval process. Maryland is waiting on final comment and approval from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Grumbles noted that Pennsylvania’s draft Phase III WIP fell short of its targets and Maryland is going to push EPA to hold other states accountable. Grumbles stressed that WIP actions and strategies must be both achievable and cost-effective. Maryland’s Phase III WIP emphasizes partnerships including nutrient credit trading through aquaculture and regional wastewater improvements. Grumbles stated that the administration of Maryland Governor Larry Hogan has invested over $5 billion for Bay restoration. Finally, Grumbles stated that Maryland remains focused on the Susquehanna River, Conowingo Dam, and climate resiliency.

Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) Maryland Executive Director Alison Prost indicated that significant progress has been made in restoring the Bay, despite some recent climate stresses that have increased the Bay’s dead zone. However, Prost expressed concerns about Pennsylvania’s progress, climate change, and a current lack of federal leadership. Prost noted that a clean Bay is worth nearly $130 billion from fishing, tourism, recreation, and real estate revenues. Maryland on track to meet 2025 goals in wastewater and agriculture but the stormwater runoff and septic sectors need additional work. CBF also thinks Maryland’s WIP needs a fourth element – permanency.

AquaLaw Attorney Lisa Ochsenhirt stated that the wastewater sector is making excellent progress, with nitrogen loading dropping from 38% in 1985 down to 15% under the Phase III WIP and phosphorus has also decreased. Ochsenhirt noted that 63 of 67 significant wastewater treatment plants have been upgraded to enhanced nutrient removal (ENR) treatment. However, Ochsenhirt cautioned that achieving the wastewater nitrogen and phosphorus targets under the Phase III WIP will take “a lot of effort.” Ochsenhirt was less positive about stormwater, noting that cost and achievability remain serious challenges for local governments. Nationally, there is a funding gap for stormwater treatment of $7.5 billion.

Finally, Chesapeake Bay Commission Maryland Director Mark Hoffman highlighted some of the remaining challenges for Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. Hoffman noted that the annual gap in nitrogen loading (in millions of pounds) from 2017 to 2025 is 8.4 for Maryland, 4.1 for Virginia, and 34.1 for Pennsylvania. While Maryland and Virginia’s Phase III WIPs will close that gap, Pennsylvania’s only addresses 22.7 million pounds of nitrogen reductions in four counties. Plans must be completed for an additional 39 counties. Pennsylvania also has a $257 million gap between identified funding and what is anticipated to meet its nutrient reduction targets. Hoffman noted that the EPA did criticize Maryland’s Phase III WIP draft for lacking specificity in certain areas.

Maryland Delegate and House Environment and Transportation Chair Kumar Barve moderated the session.