State proposes new Chesapeake Bay cleanup efforts

Tripling pollution reductions needed to restore water by 2020

September 01, 2010|By Timothy B. Wheeler, The Baltimore Sun

Maryland officials proposed Wednesday tripling the pace of the state's efforts to clean up the Chesapeake Bay, releasing a draft plan that calls for pollution reductions across the landscape, including upgrading more sewage plants and household septic tanks, retrofitting urban and suburban storm drains, and trying new ways to curb farm runoff, including burning poultry manure for energy.

The 170-page plan, submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency, outlines 75 "options" for reducing nutrient and sediment pollution enough to restore the bay's troubled water quality by the end of this decade — five years ahead of the 2025 bay cleanup deadline the states earlier set for themselves.

While the cleanup efforts outlined are likely to cost more and require new laws and regulations in some cases, state Environment Secretary Shari Wilson said the plan shows that the bay's restoration is "now pretty much in sight" if Marylanders go along with most of the actions proposed.

Wednesday was the deadline for the six states that drain into the Chesapeake, plus the District of Columbia, to produce draft plans for how they expect to achieve the pollution reduction goals set this year by the EPA. The state plans are to be used by the EPA to draw up a "pollution diet" for the bay by the end of the year. That will dictate what each state must do to cut back on the flow of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment that are fouling the bay's waters.

Jon Capacasa, water-protection chief for the EPA's Mid-Atlantic regional office, said plans were expected from all but Virginia, which had asked to have until Friday to turn its in. He said the two-day delay was "reasonable" and shouldn't upset EPA's timetable for publishing its first draft of the pollution diet by Sept. 24.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell has publicly sparred with EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson over the Obama administration's assertion of more federal authority in the regional bay restoration effort, which has largely been a voluntary cooperation among states and the federal government in its 27-year-history.

But Bill Hayden, spokesman for that state's Department of Environmental Quality, said Virginia officials needed a "slight extension" so stakeholders such as local government and farmers had a chance to weigh in — and so McDonnell could be "fully briefed."

Maryland's bay cleanup programs have managed to reduce nitrogen pollution by 33 percent and phosphorus by 38 percent, even as the state's population had grown by 29 percent since 1985.

The state is proposing to ramp up its cleanup efforts in the next several years so that 70 percent of the pollution controls needed will be in place by 2017 — a pace not matched by other bay states. The rest have agreed to put 60 percent of the needed cleanup measures in place by then.

"This is a promising start to what could be a new era of improved bay restoration," Environment Maryland policy advocate Tommy Landers said in a statement.

Most of the pollution reductions outlined would come from upgrading more and smaller sewage treatment plants to remove nitrogen from their wastewater, from requiring the state's largest cities and counties to retrofit thousands of storm drains to capture polluted rainwater running off streets and lawns, and from getting farmers to do more to keep animal manure and other fertilizer from washing off their fields and feedlots.

The plan also suggests requiring that many more septic tanks near the water be upgraded or even eliminated by requiring those homeowners to hook up to local sewers.

The state plans to set up nutrient "trading" programs to help businesses and local governments reduce pollution, while giving farmers and other landowners an opportunity to make money.

Requiring storm drain retrofits in the state's 10 largest localities, including Baltimore, could be costly. Natural Resources Secretary John R. Griffin noted that federal bay legislation pushed by Maryland Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin would authorize up to $1.5 billion in federal aid for such upgrades. And Griffin pointed out that state legislation requiring all the state's counties and municipalities to levy storm-water fees could be reintroduced to help pay for the work.

The state's plan has been posted on the Maryland Department of the Environment's website, http://www.mde.state.md.us State and federal officials are seeking public comment on the plans, and a series of seven public meetings have been scheduled across the state through October. Officials plan to review those comments and suggestions before putting out a final plan at the end of November.

All of the states' plans are posted at epa.gov/chesapeakebaytmdl.

tim.wheeler@baltsun.com

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