(ANNAPOLIS, MD)—Overall, Maryland is on track to meet its phosphorus goal, but is slightly off track to meet its nitrogen goal. However, an assessment of key practices that Maryland is relying on to reduce pollution in local waterways found two key practices on track and two key practices off track. The assessment was conducted by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) and the Choose Clean Water Coalition (CCWC).
As part of Maryland's Clean Water Blueprint, the state developed a plan to implement practices needed to achieve 60 percent of the needed pollution reductions by 2017, and to complete the job by 2025. In addition, it developed two-year milestones that specify the practices they intend to implement every two years, progressing toward those long term goals. The data is from the halfway point for the 2014-2015 milestone period.
"Marylanders should feel good about the progress we are making, from upgrading sewage treatment plants to significantly reducing pollution from farms. It's been hard work, but worth the effort. Now is the time to build on that momentum, not slow down," said Alison Prost, CBF's Maryland Executive Director. "To finish the job and achieve clean water in our communities, we have to target our limited dollars on strategies that get us the most cost-effective reductions in pollution. We need sustainable practices that require fewer public subsidies."
CBF and CCWC looked at the progress Maryland is making on four of the key milestone practices—wastewater treatment plants, cover crops, poultry phytase, and animal waste management systems.
As a result of money raised through the 'flush fee,' Maryland has upgraded many of its sewage treatment plants, resulting in documented improvements to water quality. Maryland is on track to meet its phosphorus-reduction goal for 2017, and slightly off track to meet its 2017 nitrogen goal. As a result of upgrades underway or in the pipeline, nitrogen pollution should also be reduced in the next few years.
Maryland is on track to achieve both the 2015 and 2017 goals for cover crops, which help to hold the soil in place and take up excess nitrogen and phosphorus. Moving forward, Maryland should target resources to farms that have not adopted the practice or where it would deliver the most water quality benefits. In addition, the cover crop program should target cost-share dollars to multi-species mixes, including legumes. Legumes provide a source of nitrogen for the next year's crops, reducing the need for commercial fertilizer.
Animal waste management systems provide for proper storage and handling of manure. These systems include a means of collecting manure from confinement areas and storing it in containment structures. Maryland is off track to meet both its 2015 and 2017 goals for this practice.
Phytase is an enzyme added to poultry feed that improves the birds' ability to take up phosphorus so that less phosphorus needs to be added to the feed. Maryland has required the use of phytase since 2001, resulting in an 18 percent decrease of phosphorus in the manure. Maryland is relying on even greater reductions (roughly 32 percent), so it is not on track to meet the 2017 goal.
"We are cautiously optimistic about Maryland's early progress in meeting its requirements under the Bay cleanup plan through significant investments in upgrading wastewater treatment plants and the cover crop program. But these reductions must continue year after year, requiring continued diligence and investment," said Karla Raettig, Executive Director of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters. "Maryland cannot coast and must redouble its commitment to a healthy bay."
Maryland generally is on track to clean up its portion of the Chesapeake Bay and the creeks and rivers that feed it, but much of that progress is due to upgrades to wastewater treatment plants, most of which are currently operating below their design capacity. That capacity will eventually be used up as more people move into the region, so beyond 2017 pollution from wastewater treatment plants will increase and pollution reductions will need to come from other sources and practices.
The Other Jurisdictions:
Pennsylvania's assessment found the Commonwealth to be off track for forest buffers, nutrient management, and urban infiltration, and slightly off track for conservation tillage.
Delaware's assessment found the state to be off track for erosion and sediment control, grass buffers, and animal waste management systems, and on track for tree planting.
The District of Columbia assessment found the District was off track for impervious surface reduction, slightly off track for urban tree planting, and on track for urban stream restoration and stormwater infiltration practices.
Virginia's assessment found the Commonwealth off track for animal waste management systems, streamside buffers, and urban infiltration practices, and on track for stream fencing.
West Virginia's assessment found the state off track for nutrient management, slightly off track for forest buffers and poultry phytase, and on track for animal waste management systems.
All assessments were conducted by CBF and CCWC state partners. New York was not assessed because CCWC has no affiliated advocacy groups in New York.
More detailed analyses are available at cbf.org/milestones.