Maybe Stay Away From the Bay Today (July 31)…

A little over a hundred years ago, Baltimore City finally completed construction of its wastewater system –  and, since it was one of the last East Coast sewer systems to come to fruition, it was one of the most modern of the day.

This means that, unlike in other East Coast cities with even older systems, not all of the stormwater gets combined with sewage and dumped into the water.

Even so, when the City gets too much rain – like this month, with its record downpours- stones-308249_640the rainwater flows into the City’s sewer system, and then out into the streams, harbor, and Chesapeake Bay. It’s an issue, and it’s why the City has its Sanitary Sewer Consent Decree with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Baltimore City Public Works has announced that this month was particularly bad:

July has been a month of historically heavy rainfall in Baltimore, and more is in the forecast this week.  These rains have resulted in large amounts of rainwater entering the City’s sewer mains, causing overflows into streams and the harbor.  Much of this was released through structured overflows, designed as part of Baltimore’s sewer system more than 100 years ago.  The city is in the process of eliminating these.

The updated overflow totals of stormwater mixed with sewer water due to rain stands at 45 million gallons for the period of Saturday, July 21, through Wednesday, July 25.  Data for subsequent dates will be provided when available. …

The public is reminded to avoid contact with urban waterways due to the risk of pollution. For information about health concerns as a result of sewer overflows please go to http://health.baltimorecity.gov/sanitary-sewer-overflows-sso.

Read The Sun’s coverage here.

Learn about how Baltimore got to this point from Cooper Moores, LLC’s Dana Cooper, formerly Baltimore City Department of Public Works’ General Counsel and Modified Consent Decree negotiator, at this year’s MACo Summer Conference, “Water, Water Everywhere,” at the session, Like a Bridge Over Troubled Water: Know Your Water Law.

The MACo Summer Conference will be held August 15-18, 2018 at the Rowland Powell Convention Center in Ocean City, Maryland. This year the conference’s theme is “Water, Water Everywhere.”

Learn more about MACo’s Summer Conference:

State Recertifies Cecil County’s Agricultural Land Preservation Program

The Maryland Department of Planning (MDP) and the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation (MALPF) this week recertified Cecil County’s agricultural land preservation program through June 30, 2021.

According to a press release:

MDP and MALPF jointly administer the Program for the Certification of County Agricultural Land Preservation Programs (the “Certification Program”). Created by the Maryland General Assembly in 1990, the Certification Program lets counties keep more locally generated agricultural land transfer tax in exchange for creating effective local land preservation programs and continually evaluating and improving them.

Certified counties are allowed to retain 75% of the Agricultural Transfer Tax revenue. The increase in a county’s share of Agriculture Transfer Tax helps support its agricultural land preservation program. All retained funds must be spent or encumbered for land preservation purposes or the funds revert to the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Fund. Retained funds can be used to purchase land preservation easements through a local program or a State program, used in the MALPF’s Matching Funds Program, applied to service past debt accrued through land preservation activities, and/or used to help pay the administrative expenses for the county’s land preservation activities.

Certification allows counties to create a preservation program that best meets local goals and needs. In combination with easement purchases, counties use other preservation tools such as agricultural zoning, transfer of development rights (TDRs), right-to-farm policies, and the establishment of agriculture as the best use of designated land. Other important aspects of local programs include defined areas for preservation and established acreage goals. In addition to the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation program, certified counties have typically also preserved land through private land trusts, Maryland Environmental Trust (MET), and the Rural Legacy Program among other organizations and programs.

Preserving agricultural lands has been a continuing and on-going goal of Cecil County since its first Master Development Plan was adopted in August 1962. Cecil has been a certified county since 1996, and during the last five years the County’s preserved-to-developed ratio was nearly 4.5 to 1. Preservation activities during this period include the successful purchases of development rights, collaboration with local land trusts, promotion of traditional and non-traditional agricultural activities and business, and managing land use in the County’s Priority Preservation Areas.

“Land preservation efforts are a key component in ensuring that Cecil County’s rural areas remain rural, and for the agricultural entities to remain viable and economically productive,” stated County Executive Alan McCarthy.

Read the full press release for more information.

How Will July Deluge Affect Health of the Chesapeake Bay?

Bay Journal article (2018-07-27) discussed the potential effects of the late July deluges on the health of the Chesapeake Bay and Bay restoration efforts. The article noted that the Bay watershed received 7 inches plus of rain from July 21 through July 25. However, the long term effects, if any, will be determined in the next several months.

Significant rainfall events can negatively effect water quality because additional nutrients and sediment gets washed into the Bay and its waterways.  Typically, heavy rainfall in the Bay area occurs during the spring and the mid-summer deluge is unusual. From the article:

High flows in the summer can be more damaging than at other times because it’s the peak of biological activity for many important Bay species, from underwater grass beds to juvenile fish and crabs.

Indeed, a recent report from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Maryland Department of the Environment examined the impact of high flow events from the Susquehanna River on the Chesapeake during similar storms in January, June and October.

The June storm, it found, had “greater adverse impacts to water quality, habitat, and living resources than October and January events.”

Useful Links

Lower Susquehanna Watershed Assessment Final Report (United States Army Corps of Engineers & Maryland Department of the Environment)

Prior Conduit Street Coverage of Lower Susquehanna Watershed Assessment

Learn more about the health of the Chesapeake Bay at the Clear Water: The State of the Bay panel on August 17 at the 2018 MACo Summer Conference.

Learn more about MACo’s Summer Conference:

MDE Finalizes Water Quality Nutrient Trading Regulations

The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) has finalized its water quality nutrient trading regulations after several years of work. The regulations took effect on July 16, 2018.

MACo believes nutrient credit trading is a necessary tool in order to help both the State and local governments achieve their water quality goals under their Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) permits and the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL). MACo is generally supportive of the regulations, although continues to remain concerned about the high performance level that wastewater treatment plans must achieve in order to offer credits for trading and proposed process for integrating trading into the Phase I and Phase II MS4 permits.

The regulations establish a registry and allow trades of individual or aggregated nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment credits created by best management practices. Interjurisdictional trading and trades between sectors (i.e., wastewater treatment plants, agriculture, septics, and stormwater) are both allowed.

However, trades must occur within the same trading region. MDE has established three trading regions: (1) Potomac River Basin; (2) Patuxent River Basin; and (3) Eastern Shore and Western Shore River Basins, including the Maryland portion of the Susquehanna Basin. Additionally, trading with wastewater treatment plants is only allowed if the plants are generating outflows equal to or less than 3.0 mg/l for nitrogen or .3 mg/l for phosphorus. (This threshold is higher than the threshold a wastewater treatment plant must achieve in order to meet its Bay TMDL targets.)

At the July 23 meeting of the Water Trading Quality Advisory Committee meeting, MDE representatives discussed next steps regarding the trading regulations. The representatives stressed that the existing regulations may need to be modified over time. MDE is working to update the existing manual, web pages, and forms associated with trading by September. The online registry must also be finalized, with appropriate training offered.

Regarding MS4 permits, MDE stated that the new Phase II MS4 permit that will be effective in October of 2018 will have trading “built in” to the permit’s basic language. However, for existing Phase I permits, each permit will have to go through a modification process that includes a public hearing. Each permittee must request the modification in writing and state: (1) what percentage of their 20% impervious surface treatment goal they want to achieve through trading; and (2) why they cannot meet the 20% treatment goal without trading. In Maryland, ten counties are Phase I jurisdictions: Baltimore City and Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Charles, Frederick, Harford, Howard, Montgomery, and Prince George’s Counties. Additionally, those counties that are required to file financial assurance plans will need to be updated to reflect how a county plans on using trading.

MDE stated that while the agency plans on doing some inspections and enforcement itself, it also plans to “partner with counties and others.”

Useful Links

Maryland Water Quality Trading Program Regulations

Prior Conduit Street Coverage of Nutrient Trading Regulations

Infrastructure Investment, One Oyster at a Time

oyster-989182_1280Governor Larry Hogan is providing millions of dollars in additional funding for oyster recovery efforts. The source? The Transportation Trust Fund.

About $8 million from the fund will support the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) over the next four years. According to DNR’s press release, the funds will support “ongoing and future [oyster] industry efforts, including dedicated funding for equipment, labor, material, supervision and support.”

Increased funding will go toward oyster propagation and replenishment efforts through 2023 with no less than $925,000 annually going to support the wild oyster fishery, with the Department of Natural Resources coordinating with county oyster committees and watermen on shared projects and priorities, including the establishment of oyster seed areas, monitoring, sampling, seed and shell plantings, surveying and transplanting.

Deputy Transportation Secretary Jim Ports alludes to the transportation nexus in the release:

The Chesapeake Bay is a great source of business to both the Helen Delich Bentley Port of Baltimore and the oyster industry. Thanks to our partnership with the Department of Natural Resources, this new oyster restoration agreement provides even more money directly to Maryland watermen to ensure a sustainable oyster industry for years to come.

Oyster experts also join forces with port powerhouses at the MACo Summer Conference general session, “The Wealth in our Water,” on Thursday, August 16 from 12:45 pm – 1:45 pm. Maryland Port Administration’s Dominic Scurti joins the Oyster Recovery Partnership’s Ward Slacum and Andrea Vernot, President & Managing Partner of Choptank Communications, to discuss the deluge of ways the Bay keeps Maryland’s economy flowing – from tiny oysters to supersized ships.

The 2018 MACo Summer Conference will be held August 15-18 at the Roland Powell Convention Center in Ocean City, Maryland. This year’s theme is “Water, Water Everywhere.”

Learn more about MACo’s Summer Conference:

 

US House Passes Bill Restricting EPA From Enforcing Bay TMDL

Baltimore Sun article (2018-07-19) reported that the United States House of Representatives has passed a bill that would limit the ability of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from assessing penalties against those states that fail to meet their water pollution reduction goals under the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL). The bill would still have to pass the Senate, which has already rejected a previous measure sent over by the House.

While considering a bill on budget appropriations for the EPA and Department of the Interior, Republican Representative Bob Goodlatte (Virginia) again proposed the prohibition as an amendment. According to the article, the amendment passed 213-202 with Maryland’s congressional delegation voting 7-0 against the amendment (Representative Steny Hoyer did not vote).

From the article:

Chesapeake Bay Foundation President William C. Baker called the amendment “shortsighted” and said it threatens progress at improving the bay’s health. …

The Senate did not approve a similar amendment the House adopted last year. Gov. Larry Hogan joined environmentalists in urging the upper chamber to reject the proposal in February, as it faced a deadline to fund the federal government.

Useful Links

Prior Conduit Street Coverage on Goodlatte EPA Restrictions

 

Rain Gardens Help Keep Bay Clean

According to an article in The Baltimore Sun, twenty percent of pollution in the Chesapeake Bay come from fertilizer, animal waste, and other contaminants found in stormwater. To help mitigate this pollution local governments, nonprofits, schools, jails are building bioretention sites to filter the runoff water before it hits the local waterways.

Also know as rain gardens, the Sun article highlights a 9,903 square foot rain garden that will be built by Trinity School in Ellicott City partnership between the Office of Community Sustainability and the Ellicott City-based Center for Watershed Protection on the school grounds. Over 1,000 such sites are located in Howard County.

The Baltimore Sun reports:

A bioretention site is a garden that catches and soaks up rainwater and runoff from nearby lawns and impervious surfaces, including parking lots, patios and roofs. Rain gardens look similar to typical gardens, but are dug deeper and include a mixture of soil, sand and compost.

At the Trinity School, the bioretention site will be designed to capture just over an inch of rainfall per storm, Hoffmann said. The school was a good choice for the bioretention site because of its available space near the discharge from the campus’ main water runoff pipes, meaning that the rain garden will easily catch stormwater runoff.

Read The Baltimore Sun to learn more.

Learn more about rain gardens and other local efforts to empower communities and residents to protect their environments at the MACo Summer Conference session “Green is the New Black.” The session will be held 2:15 -3:15 pm, Friday, August 17.

The 2018 MACo Summer Conference will be held August 15-18 at the Roland Powell Convention Center in Ocean City, Maryland. This year’s theme is “Water, Water Everywhere.”

Learn more about MACo’s Summer Conference:

Howard County Ponders Future of Ellicott City’s Main Street After Second Flood

Bay Journal article (2018-07-10) recounted the scientific investigation into the second devastating flood to hit downtown Ellicott City within 2 years and the steps Howard County is taking to improve the City’s resiliency against future severe flooding events. The first flood in 2016 resulted in 2 deaths and caused roughly $10 million in damages. The flood this May caused 1 death and an estimated $20 million in damages. While the City’s Main Street area recovered slowly after the first flood, most businesses and residents elected to stay. However, after the second flood, some businesses have announced they are moving and some residents are considering whether to stay.

“There’s some very large emotional, financial and political decisions to be made,” said Jim Caldwell, Howard County’s director of community sustainability. “There’s a lot of work that needs to be done and a lot of soul-searching (by) folks that live there.”

Downtown Ellicott City has historically been prone to flooding, although development in the region and climate change appear to have aggravated the situation in recent years. After the 2016 flood, the County commissioned an engineering study after the 2016 flood and approved a variety of projects to help mitigate future flooding. However, the second flood hit before those projects could be implemented.  

Caldwell, the county community sustainability director, said after the flooding caused by Tropical Storm Lee in 2011, he thought of three big changes that could help reduce damage from future storms – buying out some property owners and removing their buildings to open up the flood plain, “daylighting” stream channels now buried under streets and buildings, and getting vehicles off Main Street. During the 2016 flood and again in May, cars became battering rams as they washed down the street, and a few plugged up one of the culverts.

The article noted that the County is now considering a variety of additional proposals, including a thorough review of planned and future development, buying out some properties and taking down the buildings to create more pervious surface for a flood plain, and prohibiting cars on Main Street.

Useful Links

Prior Conduit Street Coverage on Ellicott City Flooding

Learn about responding to a water crisis and communicating during an emergency at the 2018 MACo Summer Conference. Relevant panels include: “When It Rains, It Pours: Communicating in a Crisis” and “Batten Down the Hatches! Weathering a Water Crisis.” Both panels run on August 16.

Learn more about MACo’s Summer Conference:

 

Montgomery Asks Residents to “Lighten Their Loads”

This summer, the Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Safeway stores are partnering to help save shoppers energy and money on their lighting with “Lighten Your Load” events.

According to a press release:

On select days at Safeway locations, bring old incandescent and/or compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs and receive up to three free LED light bulbs and a new, reusable shopping bag. These “Lighten Your Load” events are a way to save on electric bills and ensure that plastics and dangerous substances, like mercury, do not enter the waste stream.

You can swap your old incandescent and/or CFL bulbs for energy-efficient LEDs on Mondays this summer from 4 to 6 p.m. at the following Safeway locations. Look for DEP staff in front of each store:

  • July 16: Silver Spring Safeway at 909 Thayer, Silver Spring, 20910
  • July 23: Germantown Safeway at 19718 Germantown Road, Germantown, 20874
  • July 30: Rockville Safeway at 5510 Norbeck Road, Rockville, 20853
  • August 6: Wheaton Safeway at 11201 Georgia Ave, Wheaton, 20902
  • August 13: Damascus Safeway at 9807 Main Street, Damascus, 20872
  • August 20: Olney Safeway at 3333 Spartan Road, Olney, 20832

Participants can bring as many bulbs as they have available, but during the swap, each family is limited to receiving three free LEDs. All bulbs collected during the swap will be properly recycled or disposed.

“We’re giving away replacement LEDs, because it’s a small change that makes a big impact for residents’ utility bills and the environment,” said Patty Bubar, acting director of the Montgomery County DEP. “About 80 percent of households still use incandescent bulbs, and the summer months also have some of the highest electricity bills. It’s the perfect time to make the switch.”

“We take our commitment to energy efficiency and reducing waste seriously,” said Darcie Renn, director of sustainability at Safeway. “By partnering with Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection, our customers have the opportunity to save energy and lower their utility bills while also reducing waste that goes to the landfill.”

“Lighten the Load” events are part of the Department of Environmental Protection’s efforts to educate residents and businesses about simple actions we can all take to save energy and money.

Read the full press release or visit mygreenmontgomery.org/energy for more information.

MACo Submits Amicus Brief on Montgomery Pesticide Ban Appeal

MACo and the Maryland Municipal League have jointly submitted an amicus curiae brief (2018-06-21) to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals in a Montgomery County case involving a local ban on the use of lawn-care pesticides. The issues raised by the case concern local government autonomy and preemption.

As previously reported on Conduit Street, the Montgomery County Council passed a ban on the use of EPA-registered lawn-care pesticides for public and private property. The ban  covered areas such as lawns, playgrounds, recreation areas, and child  care centers but exempted agricultural usage. The ban also contained exceptions for treating noxious or invasive weed species, addressing human health concerns, or preventing significant economic damage.

In response, Complete Lawn Care and other several other businesses and county residents filed suit in Maryland Circuit Court challenging the ban. Circuit Court Judge Terrence McGann issued a decision on August 3, 2017, finding that state law preempted the Montgomery County ordinance. From Judge McGann’s opinion:

By generally banning the use of registered pesticides, the Ordinance prohibits and frustrates activity that is intended to be permitted by State law. The County’s Ordinance flouts decades of State primacy in ensuring safe and proper pesticide use, undermines the State’s system of comprehensive and uniform product approval and regulation, and prohibits products and conduct that have been affirmatively approved and licensed by the State.

The County appealed the Circuit Court’s decision to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals. MACo and MML, concerned about the broader local preemption issues posed by the holding, submitted an amicus brief to the Court of Special Appeals on June 21, 2018. The brief argued that local governments should not be preempted in enacting public health and safety measures that go beyond state minimums.  From the amicus brief:

The [circuit court’s ruling] gives insufficient deference to Maryland’s longstanding recognition of concurrent State-local authority, and its reluctance to preempt local safeguards that augment State health and safety protections.

In finding Montgomery County Bill 52-14 (“the Ordinance”) preempted, the circuit court failed to fully credit the latitude Maryland long has afforded local legislation that provides residents with additional health and welfare safeguards above and beyond those of State law. A proper respect for the role of county and municipal authority, asserted by the People over themselves through this amici and their constituent members, requires reversal of the court’s preemption ruling.

Useful Links

Circuit Court Decision – Complete Law Care v. Montgomery County (2017)

Prior Conduit Street Coverage of Montgomery Pesticide Ban