EPA: Maryland Mostly on Track to Cleaner Water, but Some Problems Persist

(ANNAPOLIS, MD)—Maryland generally is on track to clean up its portion of the Chesapeake Bay and the creeks and rivers that feed it, except for stemming polluted runoff, according to the latest assessment by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Officials at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) said the analysis is good news, but the state still has a long way to go.

"Marylanders can feel proud of the progress we've made toward cleaner water. But now the road gets steeper. The toughest problem ahead may be polluted runoff from our cities and suburbs," said Alison Prost, Maryland Executive Director of CBF. "A new initiative agreed to by Governor Hogan and the state legislature this year should help reduce polluted runoff, but only if local officials carry it out."

Most of the major sources of pollution that foul the Bay in Maryland are decreasing, and at a rate consistent with the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. That's the regional plan for having all pollution-reduction strategies for a clean Bay in place by 2025. The major exception to this positive trend is polluted runoff. In fact, excessive nitrogen flushed into the Bay by polluted runoff has actually increased by four percent in Maryland since 2009, according to the EPA's data.

This type of pollution is expensive to reduce because the problem was neglected for decades. Now counties and municipalities face high costs for fixing and improving badly neglected drainage systems.

Good news came out of the state legislature this year, however. Governor Larry Hogan and legislative leaders agreed on a bill that will help solve Maryland's pollution runoff problem. The bill, signed into law by the Governor on May 11, will require densely populated counties and Baltimore City, which already must reduce polluted runoff by state and federal law, to demonstrate they are devoting adequate resources to the job. The new law gives the jurisdictions flexibility in how they dedicate funds to the work, but holds them accountable for success.

"Reducing polluted runoff from streets, yards and parking lots will not only help the Bay but more importantly, will help the condition of our local rivers and streams. Holding local governments accountable for spelling out how they plan to reduce polluted runoff, and how they plan to pay for it will be crucial in the next few years," Prost said.

Maryland agriculture is lagging slightly behind in its progress to meet goals to reduce nitrogen pollution from fields and barnyards, the EPA found. CBF encourages the state to reduce nitrogen pollution from fields by encouraging more livestock growers to raise their herds on pasture, and by better targeting winter crop subsidies.

The EPA noted several noteworthy improvements in Maryland's efforts to reduce water pollution. Among those achievements in the past year was a regulation to better control phosphorus pollution. The rule requires farmers to reduce the amount of poultry manure spread on fields if the soil already is saturated with phosphorus. A compromise between farmers and state regulations, the regulation goes into effect over many years

Under the terms of the Blueprint agreement to clean up the Bay, states establish two-year goals, as well as long-term goals. The EPA assessment is an interim evaluation of Maryland's progress meeting its 2014-2015 milestone goals. Key findings and recommendations of the assessment include:

  • Maryland is on track to meet the 2017 targets for phosphorus and sediment but, based on new information, is not on track for meeting the nitrogen targets. The state is on track to reduce phosphorus and sediment from sewage plants and agriculture. Progress reducing urban runoff is slower and is off track when compared to 2017 sector goals.
  • EPA commends Maryland for moving forward with the proposed Phosphorus Management Tool regulations, which is a key component of Maryland's (Blueprint). The rule will help ensure farmers are properly managing phosphorus on agricultural lands based on the latest science.
  • EPA expects additional information about how Maryland plans to better reduce pollution from individual septic systems around the state.

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