•Establish buffers as exist for sludge applications to protect streams and rivers from runoff, including a 100- foot buffer in the critical area. The proposed MDA changes only require a maximum 35-foot buffer, with significant exceptions, and the proposed changes do not cover ditches and other water bodies covered under the MDE regulations for sludge applications.
Finally, it is critical that MDE be given joint authority with MDA for adequate monitoring and enforcement of the provisions of the nutrient management regulations. Current farming practices are not being properly monitored, and laws are not properly enforced.
The requirements for human sludge have assured that only 25 percent of treated sewage sludge is applied to Maryland agricultural land. Nearly 90 percent of farm animal manure is deposited on farm fields. Sensibly regulating farm pollutants as noted above would reduce nitrogen pollution by more than removing all 425,000 septic systems in Maryland and would remove much more of the polluting phosphorus.
Unlike the Flush Tax, these changes might not cost the taxpayer a dime unless farm operators apply for the many grants available to them. For example, the Maryland Agricultural Cost Share Program has provided about $140 million in taxpayer funded grants to farmers, including up to 87.5 percent of the cost of manure handling structures as well as subsidies to transport manure off the farm where it is produced.
If the O'Malley administration does not stand up to the opposition from the agriculture lobby and the major chicken conglomerates that have successfully blocked the necessary changes to farm practices, efforts to restore the bay could be doomed. Maryland has been and must again assert leadership and properly regulate farm pollutants, particularly from manure. We can turn around the decline of the Chesapeake Bay estuary, but not with half-measures.
Gerald W. Winegrad and Bernie Fowler are former members of the Maryland Senate. Parris Glendening is a former Maryland governor. Walter Boynton is an ecologist with the University of Maryland's Chesapeake Biological Laboratory. Thomas Fisher is a professor at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. Tom Horton is an author and former Sun reporter. The views expressed are their own and not necessarily those of the organizations with which they are affiliated.