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Moving Upstream: Maryland’s Counties Prepare Watershed Improvement Plans for the Bay’s Pollution Diet
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by Claudia Friedetzky | 2011

By Claudia Friedetzky—Guided by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Maryland, the District of Columbia and the five other states that comprise the Chesapeake Bay watershed have embarked onto Phase II in the historic process to implement a pollution diet for the Chesapeake Bay. The goal of this diet is to limit the amount of nitrogen, phosphorous, and sediment that pour into the Bay. Through cutting this sort of pollution by roughly about 25% overall, the Bay will become once again swimmable and fishable.

Moving Upstream: Maryland’s Counties Prepare Watershed Improvement Plans for the Bay’s Pollution Diet

 

By Claudia Friedetzky—Guided by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Maryland, the District of Columbia and the five other states that comprise the Chesapeake Bay watershed have embarked onto Phase II in the historic process to implement a pollution diet for the Chesapeake Bay. The goal of this diet is to limit the amount of nitrogen, phosphorous, and sediment that pour into the Bay.   Through cutting this sort of pollution by roughly about 25% overall, the Bay will become once again swimmable and fishable.

Pollution diets have been in existence for decades, but there has never been a concerted effort to enforce such a pollution limit for Chesapeake Bay. But since 2009, federal and state agencies have ramped up the process to create expectation for the clean up of the Bay, establish an accountability framework, set pollution limits, and design state plans for implementation. Public input in Phase I—the initial proposal for pollution reduction submitted to the EPA by the states and the District—has been unprecedented.

Late last year, Maryland submitted one of the strongest Phase I Watershed Improvement Plans (WIPs) among the jurisdictions in the Chesapeake watershed. In February our state took its first step in guiding the counties in their effort to draft and implement their own WIPs, which are part of Phase II. In meetings across the state that were held in February, the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) reviewed the EPA’s basic expectations and timelines for the preparation of the Phase II WIPs.

 

The Counties’ Turn

As of now, it appears that the counties need to submit their draft plans to the state in late fall, and have their final plans ready by early 2012. In these plans, counties will have to address a number of issues, including: how much pollution they will reduce and in which sectors, e.g., wastewater treatment, septic systems, stormwater runoff, agriculture. They will need to account for their current ability to reduce pollution. In addition, they will need to discuss in detail their strategies for achieving the additional necessary pollution reduction goals and how to fund those strategies; finally, they will have to explain how they plan to track and measure achievements in pollution reduction.

Counties will also have to figure out how to deal with future pollution created by new development. Ideally, counties will resort to smart growth strategies to minimize the kind of pollution that is created by sprawl development, including runoff from housing, roads and highways, parking lots, and shopping centers. Sprawl development is not only one of the prime causes of water pollution; it also destroys invaluable eco-systems that absorb storm water and provide a filter that reduces pollutants and toxins.

 

Cleanup will yield economic and
environmental benefits

Considering the current economic situation, planning for and implementing stringent pollution reduction goals is a tall order for any jurisdiction, especially counties that have been hard hit by budget and staff cuts. However, in the long and the short run, this sort of clean up will only yield benefits for our region. The restoration of Chesapeake Bay will ripple throughout the entire watershed by improving the water quality in the countless tributaries that feed the Bay; engendering important and long-overdo infrastructure improvements; bringing much needed jobs to the region; protecting eco-systems that our water and air quality depends on; and preserving our magnificent landscapes for future generations to explore and enjoy.

For very good reasons, the pollution diet for the Chesapeake Bay has been called historic and a model for the rest of the country. A clean-up of such proportions, while urgently needed for years, has never been tried before in the US. It signals a new shift in commitment to and understanding of the importance of protecting and maintaining our natural resources.

Like any other environmental effort of such magnitude, the outcome of the restoration of Chesapeake Bay depends in large measure on the tireless work of environmentalists to move the process forward and prevent it from getting derailed.

In the case of the clean-up of the Bay, in many ways, the devil will lurk in the local plans and local commitments to robust implementation, since most of the pollution reductions will be achieved on that level. Activists are called upon to support their county officials in this effort, but also to make their voices heard in the pursuit of the best plan and most committed implementation possible. Activists need to see the Phase II WIPs as an opportunity to push for development that doesn’t destroy, to protect and improve the places we love, and spread the word that sound environmental stewardship is both in our best economic and ecological interest.

If you are interested in becoming involved in the Phase II Watershed Implementation, please contact Claudia Friedetzky at 301-277-7111 or claudia@mdsierra.org.                                        n

 

Claudia Friedetzky has just joined the Maryland Chapter staff.

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