As we enter 2023, the 2025 deadline for achieving the restoration goals of the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint—and setting the table for sustaining them—draws nearer. Maryland’s past investments in wastewater treatment and agricultural management practices have led to major gains in water quality. But to get the rest of the way, the state must increase its natural filters. And to sustain progress, the state must better protect the ones it already has. It must account for intensifying climate change effects and work to resolve persistent inequities in pollution experienced by underserved communities.
This year, CBF is calling on legislators to bolster three natural powerhouses for clean water and a more stable climate: trees, living shorelines, and oysters. If done intentionally, efforts to protect and grow these natural filters—along with full funding for Maryland’s environmental accounts—can help address persistent inequities in local environmental conditions.
Protecting Forests and Planting Trees
A thorough analysis of Maryland’s forests has concluded, and the results are clear: Maryland’s forests are in trouble. Researchers found continued losses in forest cover, especially in the fast-growing regions of central and southern Maryland. Forests spared from clearing are often left fragmented, with formerly interior habitats exposed to invasive species and encroaching development. A program to offset forest losses through mitigation banking is far out of balance, allowing too many developers to clear wide swaths of forest without replanting a single tree.
But there is also hope: The study found that with the right policies and investments in place, Maryland can achieve a net gain in forests and tree canopy. More trees mean cleaner water and communities that are more resilient to the rising temperatures and flooding rains associated with climate change. It is also past time to correct disproportionately low rates of tree cover in underserved communities that desire more.
To get there, CBF is asking the legislature to:
- update Maryland’s tree goals to achieve a net gain of forests and tree canopy;
- strengthen the Forest Conservation Act (FCA) to better protect priority and contiguous blocks of forest, as well as replant more trees when forests do come down; and
- fully fund the state’s ongoing 5 Million Tree planting program for urban communities, public open spaces, and streamside buffers on farms.
Growing Oyster Aquaculture
Oysters are both a key natural filter and an iconic (and tasty!) local food. While restoration efforts are helping to stabilize and expand wild oyster populations, they remain at a tiny fraction of their historic abundance. Oyster aquaculture can augment the wild fishery, sustainably helping to meet growing food demand and cleaning the Bay in the process. Maryland’s shellfish aquaculture industry has grown significantly, but there is still opportunity for this burgeoning industry to expand.
Unfortunately, producers are struggling with delays in lease processing, lack of market access, and access to start-up capital. The COVID-19 pandemic also clearly demonstrated the need to build additional resilience into the industry through the development of alternative revenue streams and markets for aquacultured shellfish products.
We urge the General Assembly to:
- increase the areas of the Bay available for growing and offer accelerated leasing adjacent to certain state-owned properties;
- reduce the time it takes to process and execute leases;
- remove financial barriers to new industry entrants and encourage increased producer diversity; and
- develop a pilot program to help oyster aquaculture qualify for state funds that pay for pollution reduction.
Strengthening Coastal Resilience
Maryland is on the front lines of climate change, facing rising seas, turbulent storms, upland flooding, and stress from increased air and water temperatures. These impacts can be particularly challenging for underserved communities and can make existing disparities in pollution burdens even worse. But legislators can help turn the tide by targeting investments to practices that can fight climate change while protecting and improving water quality. Lawmakers can also ensure that laws and regulations governing our shorelines, stormwater systems, and vulnerable natural areas are up to the task. CBF is looking to this class of elected officials to better account for increased rainfall in regulations governing stormwater management, prioritize natural, resilient shoreline protection measures, and provide places for marshes to migrate as sea levels rise.
This work starts with protecting what is left of our natural shoreline reaches and adding to them through targeted investment in living shoreline techniques. In most cases, replenishing or re-establishing underwater grasses, wetlands, beaches, and oyster bars can better manage coastal flooding, support wildlife, and safeguard adjacent natural areas than hardened bulkheads and stone revetments.
CBF calls on the General Assembly to:
- identify priority areas to increase the amount of living shorelines installed;
- stop the widespread use of waivers to harden areas where living shorelines are viable; and
- restart a successful assistance program for landowners to replace hardened shoreline with natural techniques.