Blocking nutrients from bay

May 31, 1994|By Amy L. Miller | Amy L. Miller,Sun Staff Writer

Protecting the Chesapeake Bay begins at your sink.

The benefits, too, will stay close to home, state and local officials are saying during the most recent round of meetings designed to find ways to reduce the flow of nutrients into the bay.

The final meeting -- discussing the Upper Western Shore tributary, one of three watersheds affecting Carroll County -- is scheduled for 7 o'clock tonight at the John Carroll High School in Bel Air.

Proposals range from adjusting wastewater treatment plants to educating homeowners about how much fertilizer to put on their lawns.

"People sometimes say that the bay is too far away and that they're not really interested," said Catherine M. Rappe, head of the county's water resources management bureau.

"But what we do to protect the bay affects what happens in their own back yard," she said. "We're working toward goals that affect the quality of streams and rivers and reservoirs in Carroll County as well."

Since the early 1980s, scientists have said that nutrients -- such as nitrogen and phosphorus -- washing into the bay promote algae growth.

The higher levels of algae block sunlight from grasses and plants growing at the bottom of the bay. When these bottom plants die, bay fish and animals lose food and shelter, and they too fail.

In 1987, state officials agreed to try to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus levels in the Chesapeake 40 percent from their 1985 levels.

After examining areas right along the bay, officials began looking at its tributaries. Public meetings to design the current proposals began about 18 months ago.

"It's [the meetings] helped us have a better handle on what's happening," said Ed Null, manager of the Carroll Soil Conservation District. "It's been a worthwhile process.

"Maryland is way ahead of other states on this issue."

During this last set of meetings, officials are presenting proposals for nutrient reduction in each watershed. After accepting comment at the meeting and written suggestions for the next two weeks, they expect to have a final draft of the strategies in early July.

Each list of suggestions will be implemented and monitored by teams of 15 to 30 people in each of the 10 watersheds, said Robert E. Magnien, chief of the Maryland Department of the Environment's Chesapeake Bay projects division.

The entire plan will be reviewed in 1997, he said.

Meanwhile, a "blue ribbon panel" will be assembled to look at increasing funds and staffing for existing water safety and quality programs, he said. No additional requirements are proposed at this time.

"[Each area] can factor in local concerns and environmental goals that work as well, overall, for the bay," Mr. Magnien said. "The streams in your back yard are as important as the bay itself."

Three of the 10 Chesapeake Bay watersheds have portions within Carroll County. The Upper Potomac watershed stretches west to Garrett County from a ridge, known as Parr's Ridge, that divides Carroll diagonally from the Manchester area through Westminster to Mount Airy.

Carroll County water that ends up in the Patapsco/Back River basin south of Baltimore City flows from the eastern half of Parr's Ridge and the southern sections of the county.

The Upper Western Shore watershed includes the northeastern corner of Carroll County around Manchester and Lineboro.

Strategies were developed using tributaries, rather than county or municipal lines, because "water knows no political boundaries," Ms. Rappe said. "We recognized that years ago. We're taking a comprehensive approach and not drawing political boundaries around an area. We want to address some environmental needs that transcend political boundaries."

Current proposals call for assessing and upgrading wastewater treatment plants, adding either biological nutrient removal (BNR) for nitrogen systems, chemical phosphorus removal (CPR) units, both.

Biological nutrient removal uses microbes to convert nitrogen in the water to an inert gas. In the phosphorus process, chemicals will be added to remove the nutrient.

State officials said the Department of the Environment will pay half the cost of adding the new systems, and local governments will be expected to pick up the rest.

In Carroll County, specifically, officials expect to:

L * Negotiate about implementing BNR at the Westminster plant.

* Continue to monitor the BNR system added to the Freedom District plant in 1991.

* Assess the need for BNR and CPR at the Taneytown plant in the next few years.

* Assess the need for BNR and CPR in Mount Airy.

In agriculture, officials want to increase nutrient-management planning to about 54 percent of farmers throughout the three tributaries by the year 2000. Currently about 14 percent of the farmers in the three tributaries are filing nutrient-management plans, the strategy said.

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