Following one of the most disappointing sessions for the environment in 2011, this year environmental advocates and legislators in Annapolis pulled out all the stops and were successful passing bills that will significantly improve and protect Maryland’s water quality and resources. We made a lot of progress in 2012, but there is much to be done. Make sure you stay involved.
The Bay Restoration Fund was established in 2004. One of its primary goals is to provide grants for enhanced nutrient removal (ENR) technology to upgrade wastewater treatment plants and reduce nutrient pollution to the Chesapeake Bay. There are currently 67 major publicly owned wastewater treatment plants in the state of Maryland. The other primary purpose of the bay restoration fee is to support septic system upgrades and the planting of cover crops.
As of March 2012 the fund has supported ENR upgrades to 23 major facilities. Additionally, 20 other facilities are under construction, and 24 are in the planning or design stages. However, based on MDE data of projected BRF revenues available for future grants a deficit of roughly $380 million is anticipated. Such a funding shortfall will certainly jeopardize the State’s ability to meet a key pollution-reduction strategy identified in the State’s Watershed Implementation Plan ‘WIP’.
In order to reduce this financial shortfall in funding for the State’s major wastewater treatment plants and to other strategies identified in the WIP, including septic system upgrades and the planting of cover crops, the state legislature passed Senate Bill 240 sponsored by Sen. Frosh and House Bill 446 sponsored by Speaker Busch which will double the bay restoration fee from $2.50 to $5.00 per month or $30 to $60 per year for residential households; as well as double the fee for multiunit residential and nonresidential units. House Bill 446 will also add new elements to law such as requiring local governments to establish a financial hardship exemption program; exempting; allow additional uses of the Bay Restoration Fund starting in 2018; and reduce the fee to 2010 levels in 2030.
According to MDE, Maryland septic systems account for about 6% of the total nitrogen load to the Chesapeake Bay and that nitrogen loading from septic systems continues to increase due to development. Development on septic systems generates 10 times more nitrogen per household to the environment (including to groundwater) than development using advanced centralized treatment systems. It is estimated that about 120,000 new septic systems will be installed in the next 25 years, generating 2.5 million pounds of nitrogen pollution to surface waters. In fact the pollution to rivers and streams from development on septic systems is likely to be twice the pollution from all new households on public sewer.
To mitigate this circumstance the legislature passed Senate Bill 236 sponsored by Sen. Paul Pinsky and House Bill 445 sponsored by Speaker Busch, which will direct future development and growth towards existing urban and suburban populations with public wastewater and sewer and away from green fields and undeveloped lands requiring septic systems. Senate Bill 236 establishes four land use tiers with sewerage criteria and restrictions to be adopted by local jurisdictions directing on how they will grow. The bill prohibits a jurisdiction from approving a major residential subdivision served by on-site sewage disposal systems, community sewerage systems, or shared systems unless it adopts the growth tiers. The bill also requires regulations that establish nutrient offset requirements for new residential major subdivisions within Tier III areas to be served by on-site sewage disposal systems or shared systems.
One of the most widespread and rampant sources of pollutants to Maryland’s waters is urban and suburban stormwater running off hard and impervious surfaces. In fact, the only area in which nutrient loading and pollution actually has and continues to increase since 2000 is from urban and suburban runoff and current estimates put this stormwater damage price tag at $20 billion in infrastructure repair projects needed statewide.
In 1992, the General Assembly adopted enabling legislation that allows localities to develop a “system of charges” to finance stormwater programs. However since then only seven local jurisdictions; Charles, Montgomery, and Prince George’s counties and the cities of Annapolis, Frederick, Rockville, and Takoma Park have done so. In order to both mitigate and reverse this growing source of pollution to our waters Clean Water Action has worked a number of session on legislation first introduced by Senator Raskin, The Watershed Protection & Restoration Act would require local jurisdictions create a local, permanent dedicated funding sources to reduce urban and suburban stormwater pollution.
This session the legislature finally passed The Watershed Protection and Restoration Act, House Bill 987 sponsored by Del. Hucker and Senate bill 614 sponsored by Sen. Raskin to require local jurisdictions’ subject to a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Phase I municipal storm sewer system permit (MS 4 permit) to establish an annual stormwater remediation fee and a local watershed protection and restoration fund to provide financial assistance for the implementation of local stormwater management plans. The MS4 Phase 1 permit jurisdictions are: Anne Arundel County, Baltimore County, Baltimore City, Montgomery County, Prince George’s County, Carroll County, Charles County, Frederick County, Harford County, and Howard County.
In addition to the obvious environmental benefits, the creation of local, dedicated pools of funding for environmental restoration in each city and county in the state will ensure that Maryland is in the best position possible to leverage millions in federal dollars that may be made available to implement the TMDL or other programs for the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. The Watershed Protection & Restoration Act’s own dedicated source of funds and likely leveraged federal match will go on to create thousands of jobs in the local design, engineering, and construction industries, while also available to non-profit and community organizations, all working on solutions and projects to repair and prevent stormwater damage and pollution to local waterways and the Chesapeake Bay