Maryland Bolsters Chesapeake Bay Restoration Efforts After Falling Behind

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Time is running out for surrounding Chesapeake Bay jurisdictions to meet a 2025 target set in a federal lawsuit settlement to implement policies and practices to restore the nation’s largest estuary after decades of pollution.

Last year, Maryland fell short of federally set targets under the rulebook for nitrogen and phosphorus, the two pollutants that have fueled algal blooms leading to ‘dead zones’ low oxygen levels harmful to fish and other aquatic life, according to a June assessment by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Overall, the state has met 58% of its 2025 nitrogen goals and 74% of its phosphorus reduction goal, according to a separate assessment released in June by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

Hoping to accelerate the state’s efforts, Gov. Larry Hogan (right) announced Monday that 22 bay restoration projects – including waterway restorations, rain gardens and renovations ponds – would receive a combined $18.8 million in grants.

“Each of these projects plays a vital role in improving the quality of the bay and making our ecosystem more resilient,” Hogan said in a statement.

Since 2019, Maryland has spent nearly $500 million on bay-related restoration projects, the most to date of any neighboring jurisdiction.

This commitment is part of what has become a race against time to reduce the effects of urban pollution in an ever-growing region of the country. Automotive oil on the roads, debris from construction sites, and general pollution all flow into surrounding waterways that feed the bay’s largest tributaries, including the Potomac River.

In more rural areas, agricultural runoff, including fertilizers and pesticides, has contributed to the problem.

“If you look at pollution from urban and suburban areas land, pollution is increasing, and a lot of that is because we’re converting more land to developed land,” said Beth McGee, director of agricultural science and policy at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. “Now we have a lot more land in this category.”

In 2020, Washington and Delaware area jurisdictions sued the EPA for what they claimed was a lack of aggressive enforcement of the 2010 rule in states that were far from meeting the 2025 goal, especially Pennsylvania, undermining their efforts.

With the bay’s health improving slightly, this matter is currently in settlement discussions.

Under the 2010 court settlement with the EPA and neighboring bay jurisdictions, if the 2025 timeline is not met, permits for projects with new sources of pollution must be suspended, including for wastewater treatment plants and other major projects.

Last year, Maryland’s reduction efforts were thwarted when major pollution violations were found at the state’s two largest wastewater treatment plants, resulting in the spilling of millions of gallons of bacteria and of nutrient-laden wastewater in streams flowing into the bay. However, the state is on track to meet its sediment reduction targets.

Virginia has met 75% of the 2025 reduction goal for nitrogen, 68% of the phosphorus reduction goal and 100% of the sediment reduction goal, the foundation found.

The district has so far met its goals for all three pollutants, according to the EPA.

The efforts have led to stream restoration projects throughout the region, with each project aimed at meeting state-mandated reduction goals – known as “Total Maximum Daily Loads”. for these pollutants.

The 22 projects receiving money through Maryland’s Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays Trust Fund include the Croydon Creek-Calvin Park Tributary Creek Restoration Project in the town of Rockville. This $3.2 million effort will receive $2 million in new state funding.

Montgomery County will receive $550,000 for the renovation of four stormwater ponds and a tree planting project near the Wheaton Branch stormwater management pond outside Sligo Creek.

Baltimore County will receive $1.4 million for its Kings Eye Stream and riparian corridor restoration project near the eroded banks of Piney Run.

Several rural counties will receive money to restore floodplains, create wetlands and, in Kent County, recreate a beaver dam to help filter pollutants that have made their way to Turner’s Creek.

McGee said meeting the 2025 implementation target “is going to be difficult” for most jurisdictions unless they accelerate their efforts.

“It seems like a bit long, but we’re going to keep the pedal on until 2025,” McGee said.

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