Accord near on new water pollution plan

Blueprint targets cuts in nutrients, phosphorus

`This is the road map'

Tributary basins feeding bay are runoff concern

November 28, 2003|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

Maryland officials are close to agreeing on a sweeping plan for cutting nutrient pollution in the state's 10 tributary basins, a crucial step toward cleaning the Chesapeake Bay.

The blueprint - being reviewed in public meetings across the state - will outline Maryland's efforts to cut nutrient and phosphorus runoff to meet targeted reductions agreed on last spring with the other states that feed the bay.

"This is the road map - it's what is going to direct the state program and the local programs," said Jamie Baxter, who is directing Maryland's Tributaries Strategies Program for the Department of Natural Resources. "It's a detailed plan to clean up the water in each local watershed. It's the only way we'll get results for the entire bay."

FOR THE RECORD - A listing of state tributary meetings that accompanied an article Friday about water pollution contained an incorrect location for the Dec. 11 meeting on the Patapsco/Back River. It will be held in the first-floor conference room of the Maryland Department of the Environment, 1800 Washington Blvd. in Baltimore. Also, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources has a new phone number for information on the meetings, 410-260-8711.

State and federal officials say that the results of this work - and similar plans from the other states that encompass the 64,000-square-mile bay watershed - will be startling.

Together, the bay states have agreed to cut more than 100 million pounds of nitrogen runoff a year by 2010, twice the reduction made from 1985 to 2000. It will affect not only coastline dwellers, but also those who live hundreds of miles away.

"It's kind of shocking for people who are meeting their local water quality standards, but need to do more to help the bay," said Rebecca Hanmer, head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Chesapeake Bay Program. "It's just now sinking in - the huge job they have to do."

Sewage treatment plants will be asked to make expensive upgrades - which is sure to mean higher sewage and water rates for homeowners and businesses. More stringent, and costly, standards might be required for individual septic systems, too.

Farmers will be called upon to more tightly control their use of fertilizer. To soak up nutrients and keep them from running off fields, farmers will need to plant more winter crops and create more buffers.

Those who maintain lawns, golf courses and suburban and urban developments will face requirements to reduce usage of fertilizers and pesticides, as well as limit nutrient runoff.

"It's going to take a lot of sacrifice on a lot of parts to get where we need to be," Baxter told about 40 people at a recent meeting in Upper Marlboro to review the Patuxent River strategies.

At that meeting, strategies for cutting runoff in the Patuxent were displayed on poster boards. Between 1985 and 2000, the annual flow of nitrogen was reduced from about 5 million pounds to 4 million pounds. By 2010, the limit is supposed to be about 2.5 million pounds.

The draft blueprint for the Patuxent and its 900 square miles of surrounding land includes major improvements in the handling of storm water, a doubling of urban forest buffers, better management of livestock and horse manure, and 30,000 additional acres of winter "cover crops" to absorb nutrients left from the summer growing season.

Each area that feeds into the bay has been given target reductions in nitrogen and phosphorus runoff by 2010. The goals are based on "what the bay needs to be healthy" in critical indicators such as dissolved oxygen and underwater grasses, Baxter said.

Nutrient runoff is blamed for fueling summer algae blooms in the bay, depleting the oxygen supply and creating large areas of water that are unhealthy for marine life.

"It's disgraceful how we as citizens of Maryland have let our bay become polluted, and we have to do better," said Marc P. Lieber, chairman of the Patuxent River Commission. "If we are serious, it is going to mean changes in lifestyles, changes in how we spend our money. There will be tough choices and tough changes."

Once the strategies are set, the states and federal government will be forced to find the money to meet them - including billions of dollars for expensive sewage treatment upgrades. Officials acknowledge that funding will be the greatest challenge.

Those who would be required to make changes on their own say they recognize that it's cru- cial to reverse the decline of the bay, with its summertime dead zones, fish kills and depleted populations of oysters and crabs.

"We can see from the strategies that everyone is being asked to do something," said Earl F. "Buddy" Hance, a Southern Maryland farmer. "It's not just asking the farmers to cut runoff. It's the suburbs and the cities and the sewage treatment plants. I think we're ready to do our part if we see everyone else is, too."

The November and December meetings follow a series of preliminary gatherings during the summer. While the summer meetings were poorly attended, 40 or more people have attended each of the fall meetings.

"These are the meetings where there are draft strategies, so there is more at stake," Baxter said. "If people want to have input on what they're going to be asked to do to help the bay, this is their chance."

Public comment on the strategies will be accepted until Jan. 30, and a final blueprint is due to federal officials in April.

Tributary meetings schedule

The Department of Natural Resources is holding meetings for citizens to review plans for reducing nutrient pollution in the state's tributaries. Here is a schedule of remaining meetings, all beginning at 7 p.m.:

Upper Western Shore, Monday, Fallston Middle School cafeteria.

Middle Potomac, Tuesday, Twinbrook Community Center, Rockville.

Lower Western Shore, Wednesday, DNR headquarters, C-1 conference room, Annapolis.

Middle Potomac, Wednesday, , University of Maryland, College Park, Symons Hall.

Upper Eastern Shore, Dec. 9, Washington College, Goldstein Hall, Room 100, Chestertown.

Patapsco/Back River, Dec. 11, DNR headquarters, first-floor conference room.

Lower Potomac, Dec. 15, SMECO Auditorium, Hughesville.

Lower Eastern Shore, Dec. 17, WorWic Community College, Henson Hall, Salisbury.

Information: 410-260-8708 or

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