Animal-waste runoff, sprawl focuses of save-the-bay panel Multistate council looks beyond industry, sewage

December 09, 1998|By Heather Dewar | Heather Dewar,SUN STAFF

The Chesapeake Bay region's top government officials trained their sights yesterday on the next generation of environmental woes: the troublesome pollution caused by animal manure from intensive livestock operations and by sprawling development.

It was a shift in focus for the Chesapeake Executive Council, a government save-the-bay program that until now has concentrated most of its efforts on halting the kind of pollution that comes from a sewage pipe or industrial plant.

In a closed-door meeting followed by a public presentation, Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening and other members of the council pledged to work on ways to prevent animal waste from contaminating bay waters.

But the council -- representing three states, the District of Columbia and the federal government -- did not consider specific proposals to solve the manure problem, suspected of contributing to last year's toxic outbreak of Pfiesteria piscicida in bay waters.

Council members said the same was true in their talks about urban sprawl, which contributes to bay pollution by eliminating forests and wetlands, increasing traffic and air pollution, and boosting the amount of contaminated runoff reaching the bay.

Glendening said it is unlikely that Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia will agree on one-size-fits-all solutions to the two problems, but that it is a sign of progress that all of the region's leaders are willing to tackle them.

"We have not reached agreement" on how to stop polluted runoff from animal waste, Glendening said, "and I honestly don't think there will ever be a program that applies to all the bay states. But the the bottom line is we're all recognizing the nature of the problem. That has not been part of the agenda before."

"It's up on the horizon," agreed Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III. "It's up on the board. We've all recognized it as important, and most of all we're developing good ways of communicating about it."

Gilmore, a Republican elected in November 1997, announced yesterday that his state will spend $48 million on new clean-water programs, with $10 million earmarked for cleaning up rivers tainted by animal waste and farm runoff.

Since its beginning in 1983, the multistate program to clean up the bay has worked to cut harmful nutrients such as nitrogen.

The bay program aimed to reduce the amount of nitrogen reaching the bay by 70 million pounds per year between 1985 and 2000, focusing mostly on nitrogen from sewage plants. The cuts so far have amounted to 32 million pounds, and officials conceded two years ago that their goals won't be met on schedule.

As the bay-area officials begin to negotiate a renewal of their save-the-bay compact in 2000, leaders agree they can't do the job unless the states and the federal government tackle the pollution that comes from every house, parking lot and farm field, a much more difficult, costly and politically volatile undertaking.

Glendening, who was elected yesterday to a second term as chairman of the council, noted Maryland's new law to control runoff from animal manure beginning in 2005, along with its Smart Growth initiative, which earmarks state money for sewers, roads and other needs to developed areas.

In a question-and-answer session after the meeting, Gilmore said his state prefers to try voluntary methods for controlling runoff.

It will be tougher than ever for the leaders to agree on an anti-pollution plan for the next century, said Ann Pesiri Swanson. executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Commission.

"The issues are becoming more complex, more and more people are being affected, and there are more and more interests at the table," Swanson said. "People are realizing if you don't do more ++ on the land, you can't protect the water."

Pub Date: 12/09/98

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