History of the Coalition
In a state of sticker shock after being presented with their local WIP (Watershed Implementation Plan) and on behalf of their local taxpayers, the County Council of Dorchester County reached out to county government officials across the State of Maryland with an appeal to coalesce for purposes of questioning the public costs and efficacy of the myriad policies, programs and practices being mandated by the State and federal government in the name of saving the Chesapeake Bay.
What started in concept as the “WIP Coalition” and then the “TMDL (Total Maximum Daily Loads) Coalition” evolved into the “Clean Chesapeake Coalition” – when seven Maryland counties agreed in late 2012 to join forces to collectively pursue improvement to the water quality of the Chesapeake Bay in a prudent and fiscally responsible manner.
Here is a sampling of the “call to arms” which continues to resonate among local elected officials:
In the wake of historic State cuts in aid to local governments and the shift of significant financial obligations such as teacher pensions and highway maintenance from the State to the counties, the unrest among local elected officials in 2012 was palpable when confronted with crippling mandated expenditures purported to improve the water quality of the Chesapeake Bay.
Simply put, the costs associated with the Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs) that all Maryland counties were required by the State to prepare and now implement are simply unaffordable.
Moreover, many of the State’s policies, programs, and practices that counties are required to fund in furtherance of the EPA’s Bay TMDL are of questionable benefit in terms of improving the water quality of the Bay. Local elected officials are the last line of defense in ensuring the most effective use of taxpayer dollars and with so much being foisted on the counties’ shoulders, it is up to local elected officials to prioritize.
It is worth highlighting that the State’s Phase II Watershed Implementation Plan (with a $14.5 billion cost over the next 12 years) explicitly says that their load allocation was based on the concept of equity and fairness, rather than of cost-effectiveness and funding burden.
The costs being imposed on local governments in the name of cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay are impracticable and frankly unaffordable, particularly with all else that local governments are expected to do in terms of essential public services.
The Coalition believes that these expenses, although well-intentioned, are prohibitively too high and many of the projects that they would fund are inconsequential in regards to improving the water quality of the Bay.
Rather, the Coalition believes that these State requirements will be overwhelmed by the vast amounts of nutrients and sediment traveling from the Susquehanna River, through the Conowingo Dam, and finally into the Bay. This issue as a whole is one that engages all local officials, with potentially dire economic and environmental consequences.
What the Coalition is Advocating
If you are looking for the best bang for your taxpayers’ buck, the Coalition is advocating that the following Bay restoration activities, in the order listed, would result in the most meaningful and lasting improvement to the water quality of the Bay in the most cost effective manner; with “cost-effective” defined as the cost of the practice per volume of nutrients and/or sediments prevented from polluting the Bay and its tributaries:
1. Dredge or otherwise address the 84 years of sediments accumulated above the Conowingo Dam and other northern dams in the Susquehanna River in order to regain trapping capacity so as to reduce the devastating impact of rapid sediment overload from scour and the pass through of clays and silts.
The Bay is sand-deprived and overloaded with nutrient laden clays and silts. The dams trap the heavier sand while allowing the lighter clays and silts to wash into the Bay. Scour from the floor of the reservoirs behind the dams adds sediments and nutrients to the water that flows through (or over) the dams during storm events.
Therefore, the character and quality of the water flowing into the reservoirs behind the dams are different than the character and quality of the water passing through the dams. The reservoirs behind the dams in the lower Susquehanna River have no remaining long-term trapping capacity. The EPA must recalibrate the Bay TMDL by adjusting for the flawed assumption of trapping as outlined in Appendix T of the 2010 TMDL.
2. Implement agricultural BMPs that are recommended and proven by farmers to reduce runoff.
Agriculture is one of the largest sources of nutrient and sediment loading into the Bay. Scientific research conducted subsequent to the introduction of the TMDL has called into question the effectiveness of a number of agricultural BMPs promulgated in the past (e.g., no-till farming, NMPs based solely on nitrogen, NMPs on fields underlain with drain tiles, etc.). We spend billions on de minimis reductions at point sources because regulators will not engage in the innovative thinking and risk-taking necessary to find solutions to real problems. Allow farmers greater flexibility where doing so is likely to have minimal adverse consequences and permit, encourage, financially support and undertake verification testing of home grown solutions recommended by farmers. Propitiate what works. One size does not fit all and neither do the BMPs created by regulators.
3. Focus on oyster and SAV restoration Bay-wide, including power dredging throughout the Chesapeake Bay.
Power dredging is the only way to uncover buried shell beds and to agitate and clean the shells so that spat have a hard clean surface on which they can adhere. Provide funds to watermen to introduce spat back into the power dredged beds. Conduct research on whether sand has to be reintroduced to provide a soil that will hold the roots of SAV securely in areas where several feet of clay and silt sediments now cover the floor of the Bay. Everyone points to how well SAV has recovered in the Susquehanna Flats but studies show that from north of Tolchester to below the Choptank River, SAV is devastated by smothering sediments that are repeatedly agitated, clouding the water and choking out light. All the sand in the sediments flushing into the Bay falls out in the Susquehanna Flats. The silts and clays remain suspended, not beginning to settle to the bottom until the devastated areas from north of Tolchester down to south of the Choptank.
4. Require wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) upgrades that focus on plant modernization, as well as flood and overflow protection, before across-the-board upgrades to functional WWTP’s require enhanced nutrient removal (ENR) technology at considerable expense.
For example, the Patapsco WWTP in Fairfield (south Baltimore) and the pumping station at Patapsco Avenue and Shell Road (nearby in south Baltimore) represent examples of a WWTP system that is failing. (See an article on such an overflow.) The problem with sewage overflowing from Baltimore’s sewer system into the harbor and Chesapeake Bay is so persistent and severe that in 2002 a consent decree was entered into between Baltimore, MDE and US EPA whereby in return for not being subject to heavy fines for violating the Clean Water Act, the city agreed to rebuild sewer mains and increase the capacity of its tow treatment plants at Fairfield and Back River. Today, over ten years later, significant work still needs to be done to meet the terms of the 2002 decree, even despite the imposition of more stringent rules to treat nutrients (i.e., ENR) going into the Chesapeake Bay. For information on WWTP overflows since 2005: MD StateStat.
5. Install public sewer extensions to connect failing septic’s, where financially feasible and consistent with local plans. Allow and encourage switch grass use in drain fields in the coastal plain geology where the water table is less than 10′ deep. Existing 10′ – 15′ septic systems could be restored for the cost of one new one under currently approved BMPS and operation/maintenance will be more affordable where switch grass is used. Reconsideration of tier mapping due to its adverse impacts on rural counties – there is no peer-reviewed science which supports the regulation of septics (by way of SB 236 in the 2012 Session of the General Assembly) as a means to measurably improve the water quality of the Bay.
6. Instead of requiring expensive stormwater retrofits and BMPs, allow goals to be met with less expensive, more cost-effective projects such as those that promote tributary restoration. Fallen trees and accumulated debris in tributaries have lead to greater erosion and sedimentation during storm events when flows increase, regardless of the increase or decrease in impervious surfaces. In tidal areas, flow impediments prevent debris and sediment and nutrient laden water in the Bay from washing into restorative wetlands as the tide rises and falls. MDE is seeking to do through Municipal Sewer Systems (MS4) permits that which it did (ENR) through National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits. Billions will be spent on unproven, ineffective stormwater retrofits while low-cost, common sense, bang-for-the-buck solutions go unfunded. Do not require local governments to increase taxes in order to fund stormwater retrofits. Funding should come through uniform state taxes such as the flush tax, keeping the per capita impact uniform.
Public attention and resources should be prioritized accordingly. Our fiscal responsibilities dictate that programs and expenses are prioritized so that the limited public and private resources available to improve the water quality of the Bay are first expended on programs that will achieve the most significant and lasting results. Such an opportunity is provided by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) re-licensing of the Conowingo Hydroelectric Dam, which presents the most significant opportunity to save the Bay in a generation, and ensures that all we do and spend below the Dam in the name of improving the Bay is not wasted. That is why Coalition counties intend to intervene in those proceedings.
The Coalition is clamoring for the State’s recognition of the fiscal issues we’ve raised and encouraging State agencies to get serious about the FERC re-licensing now underway. In that process they will be able to exercise the important tools available under federal and State law to fight for environmental protection, fish and wildlife protection, and meaningful action with respect to the 84 years of sediments accumulated above the Dam. Coalition members feel it simply makes no sense to spend millions of dollars to remove a fraction of a percent of nutrient or sediment loading while very little is spent to address the largest source of loading.
Not only are the sediments flushed into the Bay from the Susquehanna River and scoured from the Conowingo Dam reservoir harmful the Bay’s health, they are detrimental to the State’s fiscal health; hundreds of millions of tax dollars are required to maintenance dredge sediments from the Port of Baltimore, the shipping channels leading to the harbor, marinas and public access facilities. All the while, not one penny has been spent to dredge the sediments that have accumulated above the Conowingo Dam (before being dumped into the Bay). Open water dumping of dredge spoil is bad for the Bay, and is illegal. Why is the loading from the Conowingo Reservoir not treated in the same manner?
The Coalition’s Overall Objective
The overall objective of the Clean Chesapeake Coalition is to pursue improvement to the water quality of the Chesapeake Bay in the most prudent and fiscally responsible manner. We believe that this collective purpose is consistent with the responsibilities of Maryland citizens and reflective of the feelings of most local elected officials.
Our research, analysis and advocacy thus far is of great use and benefit to everyone concerned with a healthy Bay. There is no doubt that we have raised attention in the flaws of the Bay clean-up agenda and the disproportionate fiscal impacts on Maryland local governments (read taxpayers).
There is sufficient momentum now it seems for Marylanders to embrace the cause; support the Coalition and know that your tax dollars will be spent wisely.