A rally in Annapolis for clean water legislation draws the governor and lots of support.
Photo by Emmy Nicklin/CBF Staff
About CBF's Maryland Office
Geographically, economically, and culturally, the Chesapeake Bay is the center of Maryland life. But pollution from the state's cities, sprawling suburbs, and poultry and dairy farms has severely degraded the Bay. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation was founded in Annapolis—Maryland's state capital—in 1964. From Annapolis, we advocate for strong legislation to protect water quality, educate thousands of students and teachers a year about Bay issues, restore oyster reefs and stream buffers, and lobby for resources to help farmers and communities limit polluted run-off and reach water quality standards.
The Philip Merrill Environmental Education Center opened in 2001 as both CBF's headquarters and the organization's Maryland state office. In design, construction, and operation, the building reflects CBF's mission to protect and restore the Bay. The Merrill Center is one of the world’s most energy-efficient buildings, incorporating natural elements into a fully functional workplace that has minimal impact on its Bay- and creek-front surroundings. Find out more about the Merrill Center.
A great egret stands sentinel in Mattawoman Creek, Charles County, Maryland. Photo © Krista Schlyer/iLCP
Charles County Resurrects Ill-Advised, Unsustainable Comprehensive Plan
"While farming can and is expected to continue in the near future,
the long range land use over time can be replaced by rural residential housing
on large lots as the dominant use."
(draft Charles County Comprehensive Plan, p. 3-13)
Three years ago CBF and a coalition of partner groups, citizens, and business owners stopped a potentially disastrous road project in Charles County called the Cross County Connector (CCC). The victory spurred hope that out-dated land-use policies of the past were just that and that the county would chart a new, more prosperous and environmentally sustainable course through the revision of its comprehensive plan for future growth.
Instead, special interests put forth a proposal that would allow sprawling growth and resurrect the Cross County Connector—the very same road that the state and the Army Corps of Engineers refused to permit. Shockingly, a slim majority of the County's Planning Commission voted to send this plan to the County Commissioners—against the recommendations of its own professional planning staff and contrary to several options developed by citizens, businesses and many others during an extensive public input process.
Tide pools cover the sand at low tide on Kent Island. Photo by Michael Rhian Driscoll
A Case Study in Where and How Not to Grow:
Four Seasons, Kent Island, Queen Anne's County, MD
Maryland has made progress managing development in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Unfortunately, the proposed Four Seasons project in Queen Anne's County, which illustrates what we shouldn't be doing, is a striking reminder that we still have a way to go.
If constructed, Four Seasons at Kent Island would be one of the largest major subdivisions in Maryland's Critical Area history.
First proposed by a New Jersey developer in the 1990's and approved more than 10 years ago, this subdivision—on 425 acres of farmland between the banks of the Chester River and Cox Creek—is the wrong project in the wrong place. It was ill-conceived then and it remains ill-conceived. More than 1,000 units of housing are proposed within Maryland's Critical Area, on mostly flat land that is significantly vulnerable to current flooding during heavy rains and the certainty of more and more storm surges as sea level rises.
The problems here are scale (way too big), design (1980's sprawl instead of clustered and compact, with small-scale, green runoff practices), and location (where flooding is commonplace and will become more so, on the banks of two bodies of water). The other problem—a big one—is that development would occur in the face of the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint, which requires a reduction in polluted runoff, but which wasn't in effect when the project was approved.
Developers and those in the county who support this project argue:
- it complies with the Comprehensive Plan and zoning and has all local approvals necessary for the first phase;
- it obtained a "growth allocation," permission from the Critical Area Commission to develop land which ordinarily is protected by law;
- it has sewer and water;
- and there is other development nearby.
The developer has also agreed to "voluntarily" give up 131-acres across the creek, move polluted runoff outfalls out of tidal wetlands, and raise first floors a couple of feet.
But none of these statements means the project is a good one, nor in the right place.
The facts are:
- even the Comprehensive Plan is unclear. While the project's development site is recognized, the Stevensville/Chester Community Plan language is actually critical of such major projects;
- growth allocation was granted 11 years ago, before the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint and the latest science on sea level rise;
- there is development nearby, but the land targeted for Four Seasons is situated in a uniquely sensitive area between the Chester River and Cox Creek;
- access to the 131 acres across the creek was problematic for the developer given that permission was denied for a crossing at the creek;
- it makes no sense to build stormwater outfalls where they could be overwhelmed and undermined by tides, but there will still be increased levels of polluted runoff to the Bay;
- and, unless the buildings were raised, storm surge flooding would have become an even more destructive.
A final consideration is the developer's environmental record. Not too long ago it paid huge fines to the federal government for failure to manage polluted runoff requirements from its construction operations.
The bottom line is, does putting a project of this magnitude make sense for Kent Island,
- where traffic is already a problem, with limited ingress and egress;
- where flooding regularly occurs and more serious, climate-related flooding is a near-certainty;
- and where the massive subdivision would drain into a river and a creek that are important tributaries of a Bay struggling—and under federal mandate—to recover?
In other words, does this project make sense?
The straightforward answer is no.
What About the Next Development Proposal?
There are many steps citizens and state and local leaders can take to make situations like this less likely to occur.
- Maryland's Board of Public Works, which must grant a license to projects disturbing any tidal wetlands, can be given the authority to look more comprehensively at a project of this size and location.
- The Critical Area Commission could be given more authority to review, shape or reject applications for growth in sensitive areas.
- There could be a more comprehensive review process for developments like this, which have potentially substantial public health and safety, and environmental implications.
- A process could be developed to address grandfathered projects or those with old "development rights agreements" where circumstances have obviously changed.
A brown river of sediment flows into a storm drain, taking chemicals, oil, and other pollutants from streets and yards with it. Photo © 2010 Krista Schlyer/iLCP
Frequently Asked Questions About Maryland's Stormwater Utility Fees
Q: What is stormwater/polluted runoff?
A: As water flows off of our streets, parking lots, and building rooftops, it picks up fertilizers, pesticides, oil, and automotive fluids, pet waste, sediment, and other pollutants. This simple process—untreated stormwater flowing through gutters and storm drains—pollutes our rivers and streams and threatens our drinking water. It also causes problems like local flooding of streets and homes, beach closures, fish advisories, and sewage system overflows.
Q: Why has urban and suburban polluted runoff emerged as a national issue?
A: Up until about the 1980s, builders didn’t know much about the problems associated with polluted runoff. They just designed developments to flush the water off the property quickly. Now we realize runoff should be slowed down, and soaked up, where possible.
In fact, in the Chesapeake Bay region, this sort of pollution is the only major pollution sector still on the rise. Air pollution is down, as is pollution from wastewater treatment plants and agriculture. Urban and suburban runoff is the last nut to crack.
Q: Why has polluted runoff become a big issue in Maryland specifically?
A: Maryland's cities and suburban areas contain some of the highest concentrations of impervious surfaces in the whole Chesapeake Bay watershed. And, not surprisingly, the state also has a huge list of waterways that are officially considered polluted. In fact, the "impaired waters" list includes waterways in every county in the state. Damage from this pollution to the Chesapeake Bay is also dramatic, because Maryland's concentrated areas of urban and suburban development are close in proximity to the Bay compared to urbanized areas in most of Pennsylvania and Virginia.
The Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint requires each of the Bay states to reduce pollution or be subject to consequences for failure. But polluted runoff has ramifications far beyond the health of the Bay. This pollution damages local rivers and streams, is often responsible for expensive flooding, and, especially after a significant rainfall, can put human health at risk.
Q: What is the Stormwater Utility Fee?
A: In 2012, the Maryland General Assembly passed House Bill 987, the Watershed Protection and Restoration Program. This legislation required the 10 largest and most urban jurisdictions to set fees to address their polluted runoff problems. These 10 urban areas have the most land that doesn't allow water to filter slowly (impervious area), and they are also the only jurisdictions in Maryland charged with meeting very strict federal Clean Water Act permits. At the request of the Maryland Association of Counties, the law allowed localities to set a fee at whatever level they wished, based on their needs.
Q: Where did this fee come from? I knew nothing about it.
A: HB 987 was debated in the Maryland General Assembly in 2012. The media reported the debate. Also, nearly identical bills were debated in previous sessions of the legislature and reported by the media. Some counties and municipalities have been holding similar debates for several years as they tried to find a way to finance the upgrade of their neglected and outdated stormwater systems.
Some counties and municipalities have had similar fees in place for decades. For example, Prince George's County has assessed a tax for polluted runoff since 1986. Bowie has charged commercial properties a fee to address polluted runoff since 1988. A number of other areas implemented similar fees in the 1990s and 2000s.
Q: If we already pay taxes, why does the government need to charge additional fees to restore the Bay?
A: With all the challenges they face, state and local governments have generally chosen to do the minimum required to reduce polluted runoff. HB 987 gave a nudge to local governments to act, but left it up to them to determine the size of their local fee. With an adequate fee, the local government can implement practical, proven solutions that were previously too expensive, or that could have only been done if money was taken from other important social services. The fee also provides important leverage for financing projects with bonds or state revolving loans. Regardless of financing option, local creeks and rivers will get cleaner only to the degree local officials fund needed work. Little or no new funding will continue to mean dirty, unhealthy local waters.
Q: Why do we need a new fee? We already pay the Bay Restoration Fee ("flush tax").
A: The Bay Restoration Fund or "flush tax" money goes to upgrading sewage plants. The money is being well spent. Most major plants in the state have been upgraded or are being upgraded, reducing nitrogen pollution into local waters by more than six million pounds a year. The flush tax was doubled in 2012 to finish the job of upgrading sewage plants. The stormwater fee goes to upgrade the stormwater system—the ponds, pipes, gutters, and other structures that are supposed to channel and treat polluted runoff before it reaches creeks. That spending will provide substantial, additional pollution reductions in each community.
Q: Why aren't other local governments beside mine included in those that must charge a fee?
A: The problem is most severe in the 10 jurisdictions that were mandated to charge some level of fee, due to the large amount of impervious surface in those areas. And those are the only local jurisdictions already required by detailed Clean Water Act permits to deal with this problem. Many other counties in Maryland that are more rural don't discharge as much polluted runoff into local creeks and rivers.
Q: Am I being charged the same amount as other property owners with more pavement or hard surfaces?
A: Each of the 10 local governments was given complete freedom to decide not only the size of the fee, but how it was collected. Some opted to charge property owners with more "impervious surfaces" higher fees. Other jurisdictions opted for a "flat fee." The ten jurisdictions took different approaches. Find more information here about your jurisdiction's approach, or contact your local government for even more detailed information.
Q: What about the assertion that these fees are a tax on rain (or a "rain tax")?
A: That moniker is catchy but blatantly false. It is designed to mislead and confuse. The truth is that we are talking about a fee to reduce pollution from water that washes off hard surfaces and empties into local waterways. Runoff pollution is real—it is responsible for no-swimming advisories and beach closures in local waters, fish consumption advisories, and dead zones in the Bay that can't support aquatic life. It also causes localized flooding and property damage. And in many areas, it is the largest source of pollution.
The bottom line is that this work must be done. There are federal and state requirements to reduce runoff pollution from urban and suburban areas. A fee on impervious surface is the best model to do this because the fee is connected to the cause of the pollution. If counties don't implement stormwater fees, they will need to raise the revenue by other means, such as property taxes or income taxes.
Q: What about the complaint that these fees represent a top-down mandate?
A: It is true that the General Assembly required the fee. But the General Assembly also gave the counties the flexibility to design a fee structure that meets our unique needs. This is not a "one size fits all" policy. Counties have the leeway to develop local policies to address their local runoff pollution problems.
Q: Are the fees used locally?
A: Yes! The fees are collected by the county or city, and used only in the county or city that collects them, to fix polluted runoff problems. The money will never go into a state fund, and there is accountability and transparency.
The fee are used for simple, proven solutions that work by slowing down and absorbing much of the polluted runoff. These solutions include planting trees, planting vegetation around streams, restoring stream beds, and using rain barrels and rain gardens. These local projects not only reduce pollution and improve water quality, but also make our communities more beautiful, reduce flooding, and create jobs. Scientific monitoring will verify that the projects are effective and efficient.
Q: Why are all the fees different?
A: Each county and city is unique, and so are their water quality problems. The Maryland Association of Counties, a non-profit association representing the needs of local government to the Maryland General Assembly, requested that the state law provide flexibility that allowed each jurisdiction to address these differences. Each county or city therefore can set its own fee. The approach taken by each county has varied, but the approach that provides the greatest benefit to local communities is setting a fee that reflects the jurisdiction’s estimated cost of compliance with Clean Water Act permits and cost of restoring local streams and rivers. Despite the amount of work needed to restore Maryland's rivers and streams, Maryland's polluted runoff fees are lower than those in quite a few other states.
Q: Does the Chesapeake Bay Foundation receive funding from the "rain tax?"
A: Absolutely not. Neither do we receive a penny of funding from the Bay Restoration Fund, or "flush fee." These are government initiatives. We are a non-profit, private agency.
Q: Can I have my fee reduced? I've heard some of the 10 jurisdictions are offering discounts.
A: HB987 required all the 10 local governments affected to offer some type of credits or discounts if a property owner takes steps to reduce polluted runoff from his land. Find more information here, or contact your local government.
Q: Don't we have bigger pollution problems to worry about? Isn't the water pollution that causes closed beaches and unsafe swim areas caused mostly by sewage spills, not polluted runoff?
A: Polluted runoff from city and suburban landscapes is the only major type of water pollution that is increasing in the region. Pollution from farms, sewage plants, and other sources is decreasing. Thanks to the "flush fee," for example, we’ve dramatically reduced nitrogen pollution from sewage plants. A handful of sewer systems in the state are so old it will take many years more to stop recurring spills and overflows. Spills from those systems can play a major role in beach closings. But Sally Hornor, a microbiologist with Anne Arundel Community College who has tested county water for years, says bacteria from polluted runoff is the culprit in unsafe swim areas far more often. Sewage spills are occasional. Polluted runoff occurs after every storm generating about one-half inch of rain or more.
Q: Do the fees hurt Maryland's business competitiveness?
A: Forward-thinking community leaders believe the benefit to communities from addressing polluted runoff far outweigh the speculative concern that businesses will relocate. And if businesses consider relocating to Delaware, Pennsylvania, or Virginia instead of Maryland, they might be surprised to learn that 18 local jurisdictions in Virginia, eight local governments in West Virginia, at least two municipalities in Delaware (including the largest, Wilmington), and several in Pennsylvania already have stormwater fee systems in place—and these numbers are growing. Nationwide, more than 1,400 jurisdictions—including large cities like Houston and Tampa—have similar policies in place—and they are working.
The capitol dome in Annapolis viewed from Chesapeake Bay. Photo by Donna Rice.
2013 Maryland Legislative Session
The 2013 legislative session was a success for the Bay! Here's what we'll see as a result: more trees planted along farm streams, new construction projects (and jobs) to upgrade aging storm water systems, more oyster shells collected to enlarge reefs, and more winter crops planted on crop fields, among other benefits.
The Maryland General Assembly approved record funding to clean up the Bay next fiscal year—from $395 million for the State Highway Administration to reduce polluted runoff into local waterways to $31.5 million to help farmers, cities, and counties ramp up their local clean water efforts.
In addition to dollars, the legislature approved some innovative new policies to accelerate the Bay cleanup, including one law that verifies farmers are actually reducing pollution in return for business certainty once they meet all water quality standards.
We also helped defeat attempts to roll back our Bay clean-up progress—from reducing water pollution standards, to repealing zoning restrictions in rural areas, and delaying stormwater system upgrades.
Thanks to Governor Martin O'Malley, our legislative leaders, CBF and its partners and members, we are finally turning a corner. The success of the 2013 legislative session will help ensure that Maryland meets its responsibilities under the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint and restores the Bay for future generations to enjoy.
Photo courtesy NRCS
Senate Bill 1029—The Maryland Agricultural Certainty Program
More Pollution Reduction, Sooner, Cheaper
One of several major bills passed by the 2013 Maryland Legislative General Assembly and supported by CBF was SB1029, the "Maryland Agricultural Certainty Program." The bill offers farmers who voluntarily meet 2025 water quality goals now (12 years ahead of schedule) flexibility when they meet any potential new laws and regulations. The program offers certainty that farmers are actually reducing pollution on their farms, and also gives farmers business certainty once they meet all water quality standards.
(left to right) Pam Abramson and Amy Reyes of RALE (Residents Against Landsdale Expansion) at the future site of an 1,100 new home subdivision in Frederick County. Photo by Tom Pelton/CBF Staff
Some Counties Are Working Hard to Implement Maryland's New Anti-Sprawl Law; Others are Not
By enacting the Sustainable Growth & Agricultural Preservation Act of 2012, the state Administration and Maryland General Assembly took a critical step forward in protecting our waters, open spaces, and rural agricultural economy from the impacts of harmful sprawl. This new law, which took effect on July 1, 2012, seeks greater accountability and predictability by encouraging counties to map future growth into categorical "tiers." Counties were to adopt "tier maps” for future growth by December 31, 2012 or face limits on new growth outside areas with existing sewers.
Many localities are working hard to implement the law. Unfortunately, a few counties appear to be falling short of the law and are putting our waterways and rural lands at risk. Some counties, such as Frederick and Cecil, have adopted maps that do not measure up to the standards in the law, according to the Maryland Department of Planning (MDP). As a result, these maps do not adequately protect our waters and rural lands from overdevelopment.
Below you will find a map of the "Septics Law" adoption status by county.
Source: Maryland Department of Planning
Click to view larger
It isn't fair to saddle existing residents and businesses with the substantial costs of cleaning up new pollution from harmful sprawl. We are making progress in reducing pollution to the Bay. Development is the only major pollution source on the increase. It is only fair—and sensible—to target new growth where it will pollute less.
Maryland's General Assembly is in session now. The state legislature must stand firm and reject attempts to scuttle or weaken the law, which is critical to the success of the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint.
For more information visit the Maryland Department of Planning website.
Reinvigorating CBF's Student Leadership Program
The Education department is reinvigorating the Student Leadership program. Today's students are not just kids who will inherit the Bay several years down the line. They have already inherited it and they have just as much power to clean the Bay as older citizens do. Through student-directed projects focused on Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint campaign priorities, CBF student leaders will realize their legacy as the inheritors of the Chesapeake, while discovering the capacity within themselves as successful environmental leaders.
|Maryland Association of Student Councils' Former President Mark Ritterpusch (left) with CBF's Jeff Rogge (right). Photo by Emmy Nicklin/CBF Staff.
Middletown High Schoolers participate in a CBF Fox Island experience. Photo by CBF Staff.
Jeff Rogge and Lucas Johnson have been hired to work full time on the Student Leadership campaign, identifying and supporting environmentally active students in projects and activities that align around CBF priorities such as the Blueprint campaign. Lucas will be focusing on students who have participated in CBF education programs, and Jeff will be networking with organized student groups, such as the Maryland Association of Student Councils.
In his prior role as the Education Field Senior Manager for the MD/DC/PA team, Jeff was presented with the Susan Nash Travetto Friend of MASC Award, for his efforts on behalf of CBF. Lucas returns to the Education department, having previously worked on the No Child Left Inside campaign. Most recently, he was a field organizer for the Obama Presidential Campaign. He worked in the electoral battleground of Williamsburg, Virginia, where he coordinated Obama supporters to persuade undecided voters and turn out other supporters.
Both Jeff and Lucas are very excited about empowering students to support the Blueprint and Save the Bay™.
From the Ground Up
Produce from Clagett Farm makes its way to the refrigerators of The Food Bank. Photo courtesy Capital Area Food Bank
Social Justice Grows from CBF's Clagett Farm
For 20 years the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Clagett Farm has provided free, fresh produce to people living in poverty and near-poverty in Washington, D.C. The project, a collaboration with Capital Area Food Bank, blends local, sustainable organic agriculture with social justice. CBF calls the program, "From the Ground Up."
Feeding the Hungry
Here's how it works.
Customers of Clagett's community supported agriculture (CSA) program buy shares of the farm's harvest beforehand, and collect whatever is in season weekly, from salad greens in early May through winter squash in November. Regular customers pay a rate that covers enough program expenses to allow the farm to donate 40-50 percent of its annual production to low-income people through the Food Bank. That's about 35,000 pounds of produce a year on average.
Participants can pick up their shares either at an appointed place and time within the District or at the farm in Upper Marlboro, which is only 14 miles east of the U.S. Capitol Building, just off the Capital Beltway. In addition, the CSA offers reduced-price shares and work shares to low-income families. An extensive group of volunteer weeders and pickers helps to keep the program's operating costs low.
The result is that people of all income levels in the Washington, D.C. region can receive top-quality vegetables and fruits from this local farm, while helping to support an extraordinarily effective and efficient food bank that speaks to the needs of people around our Nation's Capital.
Therein lies the second half of the "From the Ground Up" story. The Food Bank carefully selects recipient member agencies—food pantries, clinics, after-school programs, soup kitchens, and shelters—with the organizational strength and the facilities to maintain quality and efficiently distribute a broad range of produce to its clients. For 2012, there are nine participating agencies in the District, suburban Maryland, and Northern Virginia.
Feeding the Soul
Students enjoy a day on the farm. Photo by CBF Staff
The Food Bank also offers a wide variety of educational programs. Some of these programs are in the form of classes and demonstrations, including getting D.C. kids out to Clagett for actual harvesting and other farm fun.
Recently seen at Clagett: children from the city ride a hay wagon, arrive at a farm field, and spread out excitedly to pick sweet corn, okra, and tomatoes under the careful supervision of Carrie Vaughn, Clagett Farm's Vegetable Production Manager. She shows them how to pick the produce respectfully. They bring their prizes back to the wagon in bins and head to the farm's washing station to clean them for transport to the Food Bank.
An important element of the CBF/Farm Bank collaboration is an orientation day for participating agencies at Clagett with Carrie Vaughn, her husband, Rob Vaughn, who serves as Assistant Farm Manager, and Michael Heller, Clagett's Manager for the past thirty years. The following excerpted letter, addressed to Food Bank staffer Dylan Menguy, demonstrates the value of this orientation:
"I left the farm with a wealth of information, and I felt empowered to educate my staff and community on the miracles occurring at Clagett Farm. I know that if I had not taken the time to go to the Clagett Farm orientation, I would have missed a great opportunity to learn about the great works of the farm.
Thank you. I am grateful for the opportunity."
Gwen Pope Manager
SHABACH! Emergency Empowerment Center
2101 Kent Village Drive
Landover, Maryland 20785
Photo by CBF Staff
Maryland Is the First State to Require Environmental Literacy
The Maryland State Board of Education now requires that each public school student be environmentally literate before he or she graduates from high school. The historic vote cements Maryland as the first state in the country to approve a graduation requirement in environmental literacy, a credit to Governor O'Malley, to board members, and to Dr. Nancy Grasmick, the former State Superintendent of Schools.
The state school board vote clarifies for schools that each child must receive a comprehensive, multi-disciplinary environmental education that meets the approval of the State Superintendent of Schools. Regulations given final approval by the board provide critical flexibility and oversight for school systems as they develop effective environmental literacy programs aligned with the Maryland State Environmental Literacy Standards.
While many exemplary environmental education programs already exist in some Maryland schools, not all students have access to these programs. That can occur when schools feel compelled to emphasize math and reading instruction over science and other subjects because of the 2002 federal No Child Left Behind law. School districts must now move beyond standard courses that provide minimal focus on the environment. With programs that use an interdisciplinary approach, CBF's education programs are the ideal way for classes to get experience outside and to tie classroom lessons to real world situations. Whether the topic is STEM material, local literature, or even music, using the environment as an integrating context brings local issues to life and now directly helps students graduate.
Studies show environmental education has a measurable, positive impact on student achievement not only in science but in math, reading, and social studies. Business leaders also increasingly believe an environmentally literate workforce is critical in a burgeoning green economy. Field experiences and related activities, when part of the regular school curriculum in environmental education, also help students become healthier.
"This is a defining moment for education in Maryland," said Governor O'Malley. "By approving this environmental graduation requirement, the Board of Education is ensuring that our young people graduate with a keen understanding of and connection to the natural world. Only through exposure to nature and education about our fragile ecosystem can we create the next generation of stewards."