Similarly, state officials say they'll figure out in the next year how to cover a $500 million-plus shortfall in the fund paying for upgrades of 68 of Maryland's largest wastewater treatment plants. The fund is financed through a $2.50 monthly "flush fee" paid by every Maryland household on its utility or property tax bill. During his re-election campaign, Gov. Martin O'Malley shied away from saying whether he would seek to raise that fee to cover the deficit.
The same "flush fee" also pays for upgrading septic systems at homes not served by sewer. Under a 2009 law, the state now requires — and helps pay for — less polluting but more costly treatment systems for all new homes being built in the Critical Area near the bay, or for any existing homes that must replace failing systems. But the new plan calls for requiring upgrades of an estimated 27,552 systems close to the water, with suggestions the added $358 million cost might be defrayed by offering homeowners tax credits or other indirect ways of paying for it.
The plan proposes new and expanded conservation efforts on farmland, to curb runoff of chemical fertilizer, animal waste and sediment. The most significant might be a pledge to revise fertilizer guidelines in a way likely to curtail the widespread use on the Eastern Shore of poultry manure for raising corn and other crops, which studies indicate "leak" more nutrient pollution into local waterways.
Officials said they could not estimate how much of a reduction would be required, but the plan suggests developing or expanding alternative uses of the vast quantities of manure generated by the Shore's chicken farms, including shipping it out of the region or burning it to produce energy.
While many of the farm conservation measures rely on farmers' voluntary participation — often with state or federal subsidies — state officials did say that if those do not appear to be reducing pollution fast enough, they'll move to mandates, such as requiring farmers to plant nutrient-absorbing "cover crops" on fields that have been fertilized with animal manure or sewage sludge.
Initial reaction to the plan was muted, though agricultural and real estate interests have repeatedly voiced concerns about the economic impact of tighter environmental regulations or added fees to pay for bay cleanup.
Valerie Connelly, legislative director for the Maryland Farm Bureau, said the state's farmers "will work with the state to meet the goals," though she stressed that farmers would need financial and technical help from the government.
Environmentalists, many of whom had criticized Maryland and especially the other states for not being specific enough in their draft plans in September, were more charitable on Friday.
Kim Coble, Maryland executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said Maryland's revised plan now contains many of the details on timetables and costs that its draft had lacked.
But she said the Annapolis-based environmental group still has concerns, particularly about the delay of a year or more the plan foresees before state officials tackle difficult financial or regulatory steps.
"We still remain concerned about whether or not what needs to be done in terms of nutrient reductions is going to be accomplished," Coble said.
Wilson, the environment secretary whose last day was Friday, acknowledged that more work is needed to ensure that the cleanup is cost-effective and can be paid for. But she stressed that restoring the bay will bring economic benefits as well.
"What's the value of the bay restoration to the state?" she asked "Its orders of magnitude are higher than the cost of this plan."
Some highlights of state plans
Maryland: Retrofits of storm drains in cities and suburbs, septic system upgrades and revised guidelines to curtail Eastern Shore farmers' use of poultry manure on crops.
Virginia: Reductions in nitrogen and phosphorus from sewage treatment plants. Relies heavily on voluntary incentives for farmers to curb pollution washing off fields.
Pennsylvania: Promoting new technology, including projects that digest manure and produce electricity, reducing nutrients that reach bay tributaries.
District of Columbia: Wastewater treatment upgrades to reduce pollution in storm water.
New York: Has not submitted report.
Source: staff and wire reports