Chesapeake Bay Pollution Limits (TMDL)
Maryland's Watershed Implementation Plan
in millions of pounds per year
||2017 Interim Goal
|Go to Maryland's WIP website >>
Since 1985, Maryland has made dramatic strides in reducing water pollution. The state, for instance, has reduced the amount of nitrogen pollution discharged into local creeks, rivers and the Chesapeake Bay by nearly 24 million pounds a year, according to the Chesapeake Bay Program.
Scientists have noticed the "dead zone" of low oxygen in the water in summer appears to be shrinking, if only slightly, according to a recent report by the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. Experts also have noticed other signs of water quality improvement, like underwater grasses returning downstream of upgraded sewage plants. The crab population shows marked improvement overall, despite a drop in 2012. And oysters seem to finally be developing resistance to diseases which wiped out so much of the population in the 1980s.
Significant as this is, the work is far from done. Over 5,800 miles of Maryland rivers and streams remain impaired, meaning they don't meet standards set in the federal Clean Water Act. The state warns residents against swimming or coming in contact with water for 48 hours after a thunderstorm because of contamination running off the land. Fish kills, algae blooms and other phenomenon also remain common as the Bay struggles to right itself.
In short, the Chesapeake remains an ecosystem dangerously out of balance. That becomes a problem for everyone, from watermen who no longer can make a living on the water, to homeowners whose basements flood with putrid water during storms.
To finish the job, Maryland has crafted a Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP)—a Clean Water Blueprint for the Chesapeake Bay.
The plan calls for the continued upgrading of the state's 67 largest sewage plants so they discharge much less nitrogen. To reduce pollution from farm fields, the state plans to continue paying farmers to voluntarily plant cover crops to take up excess nutrients in the soil and implement a variety of other "best management practices."
Vexing problems remain to be ironed out. Reducing and treating polluted runoff is expensive, but also necessary. Dedicated funding is needed for the job, especially as several counties and cities are required by state-issued permits to reduce this pollution. Maryland's also is relying on these reductions to help meet its overall pollution limits.
Feasible solutions also are needed to reduce pollution from septic systems. This is particularly a problem in rural areas where builders depend on septic systems to develop far from existing communities that have sewer systems. A home on a septic system discharges up to ten times the amount of nitrogen pollution than a home on a sewer line. So continuing to allow thousands of new septic systems only nullifies the progress we have made reducing pollution from farms, sewage plants and other sectors.
Progress in 2012
In the 2012 legislative session, Maryland took major steps toward implementing its blueprint for finally restoring the Chesapeake Bay.
The General Assembly showed remarkable courage in approving two bills that will fund major improvements of the state's largest sewage plants, and of its long-neglected stormwater facilities.
One bill (HB 446), doubles the so-called flush tax to finish upgrading the state's 67 largest sewage plants. That measure will decrease nitrogen pollution by about 3.7 million pounds a year. Lawmakers also approved a second bill (HB 987) to require the state's nine most populated counties and Baltimore City to collect a fee to reduce polluted runoff. The local governments have complete freedom to set the fee based on their unique stormwater needs. Polluted runoff is the fastest rising source of water pollution.
The U.S. Environmental Protection (EPA) Agency had said funds from both bills were absolutely necessary for the state to meet its Bay clean-up promises.
The General Assembly also approved SB 236, which aims to steer development with septics away from the state's most rural and environmentally sensitive areas.
On June 1, Maryland published draft regulations that will help reduce pollution from septic systems by requiring each new home to use the best available technology if it uses a septic system. Tens of thousands of new homes are expected to be built with septics in Maryland over the next few decades. A conventional septic system discharges up to ten times more nitrogen than a home hooked into a sewer system. But state-of-the-art septic systems can reduce that nitrogen discharge by 50 to 70 percent. If approved, the regulation won't reduce existing pollution from septics, but it will significantly slow the amount of new nitrogen pollution from septic systems in the future. Furthermore, the regulations will also require that these advanced systems are appropriately operated and maintained so that they provide the nitrogen pollution reductions expected of them.
EPA evaluated Maryland's latest plan—the Phase II WIP—and two-year milestone and provided feedback on May 31, 2012.
EPA officials recognized Maryland's major progress in its clean-up blueprint. EPA Regional Administrator Shawn M. Garvin said Maryland's progress was "commendable."
All of the Bay states agreed to implement 60 percent of their Bay cleanup plans by 2017, and 100 percent by 2025.
Apathy, anti-Bay legislation, lawsuits, and a bad economy all threaten to derail the Chesapeake Bay cleanup. Yet most experts consider this the Chesapeake Bay's best, and perhaps last, chance for real restoration.
The problems have been identified; we have the know-how and tools to fix them. The benefits, such as job creation, of a restored Chesapeake Bay, manifestly outweigh cleanup costs. If we work together to make the pollution limits work, many scientists believe the Bay will reach a tipping point when improvements outpace pollution and the Bay rebounds exponentially.
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