Maryland will be first with federal approval of coastal run-off plan

29 states in program to protect environment of bay, other waterways

November 18, 1999|By Joel McCord | Joel McCord,SUN STAFF

Maryland is about to be the first of 29 coastal states to receive federal approval for its plans to control runoff from farm fields, housing sites, logging operations and marinas.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are writing the letters of approval this week, said Peyton Robertson of NOAA's Coastal Programs Division.

Rhode Island, Florida and Pennsylvania -- which is considered coastal because it borders the Delaware Bay in the southeast and Lake Erie in the northwest -- have plans in the last stages of approval, he said.

"Being the first state in the nation to receive approval for fighting the threat of runoff pollution is a real testament to the hard work and dedication the Marylanders have shown in forming partnerships [among] local governments, the private sector and environmental communities," Gov. Parris N. Glendening said.

The "coastal non-point pollution control plan" is part of a larger coastal zone management program administered by NOAA that provided Maryland about $2.9 million this year for environmental programs. Maryland has received more than $16 million from the coastal management program since 1993.

No money is connected with approval of the non-point plan, but Maryland stood to lose as much as $637,000 in NOAA funds if the state did not submit such a plan, said Robertson.

"Unfortunately, [the law provides] only a stick, not a big carrot," Robertson said.

Non-point source pollution is runoff from scattered areas that fouls streams, the Chesapeake Bay and other coastal waters. It is a prime suspect in the conditions that have led to outbreaks of toxic Pfiesteria and the deaths of fish and underwater grasses.

Congress added the requirement for polluted runoff plans when it renewed the Coastal Zone Act in 1990.

Maryland first submitted its plan, drafted by the state departments of the environment and natural resources, in 1995. It received conditional approval in 1997 and has since been updated.

NOAA and the EPA announced last month they would approve the plan after a comment period, which has expired.

The plan includes the state Water Quality Improvement Act, passed after a 1997 Pfiesteria outbreak on the Pocomoke River sickened people and killed thousands of fish, a "clean marina" program and efforts to clean up areas with a large proportion of failing septic systems.

"We were able to use all of our existing programs and add to them," said Gwynne Schultz, director of Maryland's Coastal Zone Management Program.

Under the clean marina program, the state publishes a list of measures that marina and boat owners can take to help improve water quality. A marina that adopts those practices gets a state "Clean Marina" designation, which it can use in its advertising.

The state Department of the Environment asks local governments to designate "areas of concern" where septic systems are failing, then work with the counties to develop new sewage disposal methods.

The coastal program might be a small one, says Mitch Keiler, state coordinator for the non-point program, "but it's moving the state in the right direction as far as the things we need to do."

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