Now Hear This: The Environment in Focus

MACo is now featuring a new way to keep your county knowledge up-to-date in our weekly e-newsletter, This Week on Conduit Street.” Now Hear This” is a weekly segment featuring short and concise audio clips from a wide variety of publications.

This week’s segment features “Focus on the Environment,” an independently produced piece featured on WYPR.

environment-in-focus

Redefining Success in the Chesapeake Bay Cleanup

Tom Pelton Discusses how when it comes to cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay, the definition of success is constantly evolving.

 

 

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Queen Anne’s Launches Unique “Living Shoreline”

National Wildlife Federation, Maryland Department of Natural Resources and Queen Anne’s County Officials Launch First-of-its-Kind, Climate Adaptive Shoreline

Officials from the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), the state of Maryland and Queen Anne’s County held a ribbon-cutting ceremony Tuesday for the Conquest Preserve Living Shoreline Project on the banks of the Chester River. The project is one of the first living shoreline projects in the country to incorporate sea level rise projections into its design from the outset, in an attempt to mitigate some of the damaging effects of climate change in a cost-effective and natural way.

From an NWF Press Release,

“The National Wildlife Federation is proud to have spearheaded such an innovative project right on the banks of the Chesapeake Bay, one of our nation’s most prized natural resources,” said Dr. Bruce Stein, NWF’s Associate Vice President for Conservation Science and Climate Adaptation. “The Conquest Preserve Living Shoreline is a great example of how climate-smart conservation can improve habitat while also providing social and economic benefits to local communities.”

Other attendees at the event included Maryland Governor’s Office Deputy Chief of Staff Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio; Maryland Board of Public Works Executive Secretary Sheila C. McDonald; Maryland Department of Natural Resources Secretary Mark Belton; Maryland Senator Stephen S. Hershey Jr. (R-Dist. 36); Maryland Delegate Steven J. Arentz (R-Dist. 36); Maryland Delegate Jefferson L. Ghrist (R-Dist. 36); Queen Anne’s County Commissioners James J. Moran, Steve Wilson and Jack N. Wilson Jr. and other county staff; and Wildlife Conservation Society Climate Adaptation Fund Program Manager Liz Tully.

Living shorelines projects use natural materials – as opposed to hard infrastructure such as seawalls and bulkheads – to reduce erosion, stormwater runoff and habitat loss. The Conquest Preserve project is the first in the country to use a “shingle beach” design, consisting of pebbles or small- to medium-sized cobbles, rather than the typical fine sand. While they provide some stability, the lightweight cobbles are not completely static and move slightly with the tide. This allows the shoreline to shift and respond to wave action and rising sea-levels into the future.

The living shoreline stabilizes the public beach by reducing erosion and increasing marsh grass habitat for wildlife in the near term, as well as providing a natural barrier to projected sea level rise associated with climate change. As sea levels rise and wave action increases, the cobblestone, dunes and marsh grass that make up the shoreline gradually migrate upland and inland, rather than being overcome or destroyed.

Read the full press release for more information.

Smart Cities Initiative Empowers Montgomery County, Baltimore City

Montgomery County, Baltimore City & the National Association of Counties (NACo) are participants of the White House’s Smart Cities Initiative which allows cities, governmental agencies, universities, and the private sector to work together to research, develop, deploy, and testbed new technologies that can help make cities more inhabitable, cleaner, and more equitable. The White House Administration has expanded this initiative with over $80 million in new Federal investments and doubled the number of participants to help cities in the areas of climate, transportation, public safety and transformation of city services. The Administration’s approach involves working together with communities to identify local needs and priorities, develop and build upon evidence-based and data-driven solutions, and strategically invest Federal funding and technical assistance.

Montgomery County was awarded a Replicable Smart Cities Technology grant and selected to focus on the development and deployment of interoperable technologies to address important public concerns regarding air pollution, flood prediction, rapid emergency response, and improved citizen services through interoperable smart city solutions that can be implemented by communities of all types and sizes.

NIST will work with the County to build a first-of-a-kind alert network that uses sensors to detect hazardous situations such as dangerous pollutants and poor air quality.

“Montgomery County continues not only to participate nationally as a smart community, but also to lead as one,” said County Executive Isiah Leggett. “This grant and our partnership with NIST is continued evidence that the County is actively using technology to create a safer environment for all residents, especially our most vulnerable.”

Montgomery County is also a member of the Urban Innovation Council which is dedicated to overcoming challenges to build smarter cities through entrepreneurship.

Baltimore City, with Johns Hopkins University & the University of Baltimore, are members of the Big Data and Human Services Lab which brings together stakeholders from the MetroLab Network’s membership to connect disparate policy and research efforts that harness data-driven approaches to transform human services. This effort will support coordination across communities, develop new tools and infrastructure, and help replicate what works, such as the collaboration between University of Washington and Seattle to use predictive analytics to identify precisely when city services succeed in helping homeless individuals transition into permanent housing, offering the promise of a future of personalized intervention.

The National Association of Counties (NAC0)  is a member of the Better Communities Alliance (BCA), which is a new DOE-led network of cities and counties with the goal of creating cleaner, smarter, and more prosperous communities for all Americans. Through the BCA, which is part of the Better Buildings Initiative, DOE is creating a one-stop shop for cities and counties to plug into DOE resources and AmeriCorps resources from the Corporation for National and Community Service to support them in tackling energy and climate challenges. DOE will gather key stakeholders to promote knowledge exchange and collaboration, while streamlining access to community-focused DOE resources and funding through coordinated assistance across programs and a common digital portal.

Click here to find out more about the White House Smart Cities Initiative.

St. Mary’s County to Hold 50th Annual U.S. Oyster Festival, Draws Fans Nationwide

This October 15th and 16th, St. Mary’s County will hold the 50th Annual U.S. Oyster Festival…an event that draws people from all over the nation! It’s home to the National Oyster Cook-off and the US National Oyster Shucking Competition.

posterThe Bay Journal highlights this year’s event:

The annual gathering is one of the oldest in the Chesapeake region, created and still sponsored by the Rotary Club of Lexington Park.

“It was a one day event back in the late ’60s and early ’70s,” said David Taylor, Rotary member and former festival administrator. “At the first festival, they claimed they had 1,000 people, and it was $2 for all you could eat.”

The festival now draws approximately 15,000 people, with more than 75 artists and nonprofit organizations showcasing displays and items for sale, including oysters prepared in just about any way possible. There many activities for children, including small carnival rides, and a nonstop variety of live music on two stages.

“It’s grown from a little festival that attracted a lot of locals to a prominent regional if not national festival,” Taylor said.

Visitors and participants have come from as far as Washington state, Oregon, Colorado, Louisiana and Florida. In the ’90s, an RV group from Buffalo stopped by on their way south every year.

“There is a loyalty to it,” Taylor said. “It’s grown in size but the purpose remains the same — to celebrate the opening of oyster season in the Chesapeake Bay.”

Oysters, of course, are the main event. The festival serves up approximately 150,000 oysters each year, and the shells are used to help regenerate oyster reefs in the Chesapeake Bay.

Raw and cooked oysters abound, although seafood and other Southern Maryland specialties are on the menu too. You can purchase oysters from vendors or sample top-notch recipes during cooking contests and demonstrations. Fried oysters served by the St. Mary’s County Watermen’s Association are always popular. In the Tasting Room, which was introduced in 2015, you can sample the difference between the various farm-raised and wild-caught oysters that are available in St. Mary’s County. You can also pair the samples with a craft beer or local wine.

The festival is also home to the National Oyster Cook-Off, which began in 1980. Hundreds of recipes are submitted every year, but only nine are selected to compete. Professional chefs judge the results, and the crowd selects a “People’s Choice.” Submitted recipes are compiled in an annual cookbook, and this year’s festival will include a commemorative collection of grand champion recipes from each year of the cook-off.

The shucking contest includes divisions for men and women. Contestants come from across the country, and the two winners face off to become the U.S. Oyster Shucking Champion. Louisiana shuckers have won five times.
There’s an amateur round for those with lesser skills, and all ages get in on the action.

Visit usoysterfest.com for more information.

Dorchester Wastewater Plant Gets Latest BRF Grant

Earlier this month, the Maryland Board of Public Works approved a $200,000 grant to the Town of Secretary in Dorchester County to upgrade its sewage treatment plant which will in turn reduce pollution and improve water quality.

According to the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE),

“The Twin Cities Wastewater Treatment Plant upgrade is a smart investment and great news for Maryland communities and citizens of the Chesapeake Bay region. The Maryland Department of the Environment thanks Governor Hogan for his leadership on this environmental priority,” said Maryland Secretary of the Environment Ben Grumbles. “Reducing nutrient pollution to our waterways will help us to green and grow the state’s economy and lead in the race to protect and restore Chesapeake Bay watersheds.”

The project involves the planning, design and construction of BNR and ENR upgrades at the plant at an approved design capacity of 281,000 gallons per day. After the upgrades, the facility will reduce its nitrogen discharge by 83 percent and its phosphorus discharge by 85 percent, significantly reducing the amount of nutrients discharged to the Choptank River and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay. Excessive amounts of nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus lead to lowered levels of oxygen needed to support aquatic life in waterways, including the Chesapeake Bay. ENR upgrades of the state’s major wastewater treatment plants are a critical component of Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay restoration plan.

Fracking Crackdown: State Introduces New Regulations

A year before a fracking ban in Maryland expires, the state has proposed rules for the controversial industry.

Maryland environmental officials are proposing new regulations for the natural gas drilling technique known as fracking. Maryland currently prohibits hydraulic fracturing, which involves pumping water, sand and chemicals deep underground to break up rock and release natural gas. A state moratorium on issuing fracking permits ends Oct. 1, 2017.

From The Baltimore Sun,

The Hogan administration has proposed rules that would prohibit the gas-drilling technique known as fracking within 2,000 feet of a private drinking water well, require steel casings around gas bores to a depth of 100 feet, and require energy companies to replace any water supply that is contaminated by the practice.

The Maryland Department of the Environment submitted the measures Monday to a legislative committee that reviews regulations, a year before a state ban on fracking ends.

The plan was unveiled five days ahead of the Oct. 1 deadline set by lawmakers for the rules to be formally adopted. Department of the Environment officials now expect the approval process to finish by the end of the year instead.

Secretary Ben Grumbles said the rules “will be the most stringent and protective environmental shale regulations in the country.”

“If fracking ever comes to western Maryland, these rigorous regulations will be in place beforehand to help ensure safe and responsible energy development,” Grumbles said in a statement.

The General Assembly passed legislation last year requiring the environment department to write the regulations. It became law without Hogan’s signature.

Opponents of fracking said the proposed regulations don’t change their plans to push for a permanent ban on the practice.

Nadine Grabania, secretary of Citizen Shale in Western Maryland, said the group “has no confidence in the state’s ability to regulate this hazardous activity, nor in its commitment to monitor and enforce those regulations.”

“We urge the General Assembly to save our communities from the Hogan administration’s plans for a misguided experiment,” Grabania said.

State Del. Sandy Rosenberg, the House chair of the Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review, said the panel would review the regulations and would be open to negotiations over any differences of opinion.

State environment officials said they expect the rules to be formally proposed Nov. 14. After that, they will be subject to a 30-day public comment period.

Read the full article for more information.

Perdue: More Oysters, Not Less Fertilizer, Are Solution For Bay Cleanup

Speaking to the Baltimore Sun editorial board on Tuesday, Jim Perdue said chickens are not the greatest threat to bay water quality, but another creature – oysters – might be the solution.

Jim Perdue, Chairman of the Salisbury-based chicken enterprise that bears his family’s name, says chickens aren’t the biggest problem facing the Chesapeake Bay. Perdue prefers to focus on what he considers the best solution for cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay: more oysters.

From The Baltimore Sun,

Only 8 percent of the water that flows into the bay washes over Eastern Shore land where farmers spread chicken manure as fertilizer, he said.

So while agriculture is blamed as the biggest detriment to the estuary’s health, that responsibility is overstated, he told the Baltimore Sun’s editorial board in a meeting Tuesday.

The focus of addressing bay pollution should be on rebuilding the oyster population, the Perdue Farms chairman said. Perdue was named chairman of the Oyster Recovery Partnership, a nonprofit focused on helping the bivalves multiply in the bay, this spring.

Oysters serve as natural filters for estuaries like the Chesapeake, but the bay’s oyster population has fallen by 99 percent over the past 150 years.

“Until you put a filter back in the bay, you’ll never clear up the problem,” Perdue said.

Chicken manure, along with failing wastewater treatment plants and septic systems, are chief sources of pollution in the bay. The nitrogen and phosphorus they contain fertilizes algae blooms that cloud waters and create dead zones with little or no oxygen.

Perdue argued that data shows Eastern Shore farming is not as big a problem for the bay as many believe. Instead, he pointed to increased waterfront development and pollutants and sediment that wash into the bay from its western shore and Susquehanna headwaters.

According to Maryland’s BayStat program, agriculture is the biggest source of nitrogen and phosphorus statewide, and on the Eastern Shore.

One water quality advocate said Perdue’s comments seemed an attempt to deflect attention from the poultry industry and its contributions to bay pollution.

“It’s all a problem; it’s just that the contributions from ag are a bigger problem than everything else,” said Kathy Phillips, the Assateague Coastkeeper and an advocate for Eastern Shore water quality.

“You can’t keep deflecting attention away from ag,” she said. “It needs to do more because it’s a bigger contributor.”

Efforts to rebuild the oyster population, to benefit both water quality and the seafood industry, are meanwhile advancing.

Read the full article for more information.

Study: Bay Pollution Loads On The Decline

As Maryland pursues multiple strategies to limit pollution loads into the Chesapeake Bay, a recent study shows progress.

Bay region map shows trends with nitrogen, phosphorous, and sediment - courtesy of Chesapeake Bay Program
Bay region map shows trends with nitrogen, phosphorous, and sediment – courtesy of Chesapeake Bay Program
Data from the Chesapeake Bay Program and the U.S. Geological Survey show a decline in Bay pollution loads for the last year measured (2015) — with notable drops in nitrogen, phosphorous, and sediment, the three targets of the Bay’s widespread “Total Maximum Daily Load” effort.

Coverage in the Star Democrat notes the importance of the progress:

The pollution reductions are largely credited to dry weather and below-normal river flow, but experts noted local efforts to reduce pollution — like best management practices, lowering vehicle and power plant emissions and reducing runoff from farmland — also play a role.

Excess nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment are recognized at top contributors to the Bay’s poor health.

According to the Chesapeake Bay Program, excess nutrients, like phosphorus and nitrogen, in the Bay’s water can fuel the growth of algae blooms that lead to long-duration, low-oxygen “dead zones” in deep water and short-duration “mortality moments” in shallow water. Sediment can block sunlight from reaching underwater grasses and suffocate shellfish.

Read the full coverage in the Star Democrat, or visit the Chesapeake Bay Program website for more detail.

NACo October 26 Webinar: Is Your County Solar Ready? Strategies for Removing Local Barriers to Solar Energy

naco logoThe National Association of Counties (NAC0) will host a webinar “Is Your County Solar Ready? Strategies for Removing Local Barriers to Solar Energy” on Wednesday, October 26, 2016 at 2 p.m.

Despite rapid growth in solar energy markets across the country, solar is still often limited by local barriers in zoning, permitting and installation. Local government ‘soft costs’ –the non-hardware and administrative costs of solar—and ‘red tape’ ultimately raise the price of solar energy systems, which is passed on to residents and businesses.

In an effort to become more solar-friendly, many counties are seeking to improve and streamline their local solar policies and processes. Join us for this webinar to dive into best practice examples of strategies and solutions currently being implemented in counties across the country. Participants will also learn more about the SolSmart program as an available resource for counties to gain no-cost technical assistance in removing local barriers to solar and an opportunity to receive high-profile, national recognition.

For more information, please contact Jack Morgan.

Click here to register.

Proposed BAT Septic Regs, MDE FAQ Sheet Published

The proposed regulations to repeal the mandate for best available nitrogen removal technology (BAT) septic systems outside of a critical area (beyond 1,000 feet of the waters of the Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays or their tributaries) were published in the 2016-09-16 issue of the Maryland Register. Public comment on the proposed regulations is open through October 17. It is likely that the legislative committee that reviews regulations – the Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review (AELR) – will request a hearing on the proposed regulations and could potentially place a temporary hold on them. Assuming no unexpected procedural disruptions, the regulations could be finalized and go into effect in early 2016.

Additionally, the Maryland Department of the Environment has released a FAQ sheet on the proposed regulations. The FAQ sheet describes the proposed regulations and then answers several questions on the implementation process and the effect on homeowners and developers. From the FAQ sheet:

When can we expect the regulations to change?

The final adoption date of draft regulations is not available at this time. The draft regulatory changes were submitted to the Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review committee (AELR) on August 22, 2016. The AELR Committee reviews the proposed changes, the draft regulations are published on the Maryland Register for 45 days, which includes a 30 day public comment period. The proposal to change the regulations may take several months; a final date is not known at this time.

Can I submit a septic permit today that does not indicate a BAT unit will be installed?

No, the regulations that are currently in place are applicable and every Approving Authority must adhere to those regulations. …

My new construction is not to be completed until next year; can I hold off on installing the BAT unit?

Yes, if the Approving Authority is in agreement and the property will meet all requirements under the draft regulation. However, use and occupancy of a new structure cannot be approved until the septic construction permit is finalized.

Can a homeowner take an existing BAT and convert it to a conventional septic system or make the BAT inoperable?

The Approving Authority may allow this proposed change on privately purchased BATs at their discretion so long as the property is approvable with a conventional septic disposal system and the draft regulations are adopted as final.

If the property received any Bay Restoration Funds (partial or full grant) for the purchase, installation, and operation and maintenance (O&M) contract, the BAT shall not be converted to a conventional septic system or be made inoperable.

Must a homeowner maintain service in perpetuity of the BAT system?

Yes, the regulation does not change the requirement for the operation and maintenance in perpetuity. Any BAT unit installed in Maryland, existing or proposed, must be serviced by a certified service provider. …

Can an existing 5 year Operation and Maintenance contract be changed to a 2 year after the regulation is in effect?

If the property received Bay Restoration Funds for the purchase, installation, and O&M contract, the O&M contract cannot be reduced. If the property did not utilize BRF funds, the homeowner may renegotiate with the manufacturer and service provider for a two year contract.

Useful Links

AELR Committee Webpage