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Maryland Warns Some Counties Underfunded for Stormwater Programs

According to the EPA, urban and suburban stormwater is the source of about 15 percent of the total nitrogen entering the Chesapeake Bay, and is the only source that is still increasing. Better stormwater ('gray funnel') management is necessary, but an expensive one for local governments. The Chesapeake is on EPA's "dirty waters" list, a result of years of missed deadlines for bay restoration. The bay has lost half of its forested shoreline, more than half its wetlands and nearly 80 percent of its underwater grasses. Here, sailors are picking up trash along the shores of the Chesapeake Bay during
"Clean The Bay Day."

Photo: U.S. Navy, Wikipedia public domain

A bill passed in Maryland in 2012 required 10 counties to set a small fee (tax) for property owners to help fund stormwater programs. Frederick County, for instance, set a one-cent fee.

The Maryland Department of Legislative Services (DLS), however, projects that with such a nominal tax, six counties won't have enough money to pay for the necessary water quality efforts in fiscal 2015. DLS estimates Frederick County will be underfunding for its stormwater and water quality efforts by about $18 million in its upcoming budget, which potentially leaving it "unable to comply with a federal permit," reports the Frederick News-Post. Such a shortfall would allow the county to only accomplish about one-fifth of its stormwater/water quality efforts.

While the Chesapeake Bay Foundation calls for more funding resources, like state and federal grants and
public-private partnerships, some state representative believe the state's water cleanup goals are simply unrealistic, given the cost projections, and are hardly surprised there are shortfalls for funding stormwater and water quality projects.

Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts began in 1983, following many years of visual evidence of increasingly clouded waters, decreases in striped bass, shad and oyster populations and the disappearance of bay grasses. The primary focus was nitrogen and phosphorus pollution. In 1987, the Bay States and the Feds committed to a 40 percent reduction in nutrient pollution by 2000. That deadline was missed, and reset for 2010, then reset again for 2025. Finally, seeing the lack of progress, the EPA in Dec. 2010, under the authority of the Clean Water Act, released enforceable pollution limits for nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment pollution in the Chesapeake. The six Bay States and the District of Columbia released their plans to meet those limits by 2025. These pollution targets and the states' plans is called the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) reports "the American Farm Bureau Federation and Fertilizer Institute have recruited 21 states ... to support their efforts to derail Chesapeake Bay restoration. Together, they're seeking to overturn the recent ruling that declared the science-based pollution limits and the cleanup plan legal."

CBF estimates nutrient pollution in the bay has been reduced by "slightly more than 20 percent," however, nitrogen pollution from stormwater runoff is the only major source of in the bay that is still growing.

Among the Chesapeake Bay's watershed restoration efforts are planting trees, stream buffers and underwater grasses, i.e., the bay's natural filters. The CBF is also working to revive the native oyster (Crassostrea virginica) population, which has been estimated as low as one percent of historic levels.

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August 25, 2019, 5:39 am PDT

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