By the end of the year, Frederick County’s state-mandated stormwater permit will have reached the end of its life cycle and the county will be waiting for the Maryland Department of the Environment to issue a new one.

As Maryland completes a planning document with broader goals to restore the Chesapeake Bay, however, the state’s largest jurisdictions — including Frederick County — are trying to determine the compatibility between the plan and the pending permits. With public comment on the broad guidance plan now open, there may be only a small window for the counties to compare the two and comment.

“We don’t know what our next-generation permit looks like. They haven’t shown it to us yet,” said Don Dorsey, who co-runs the capital improvements program for Frederick County’s stormwater permit at the Office of Sustainability and Environmental Resources.

The permit is known as the Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System — or MS4 — and it is the implementation document that all large and small jurisdictions must use to treat surfaces impervious to water in order to reduce harmful runoff into nearby waterways and the Chesapeake Bay. More than 90 percent of Maryland’s developed land falls under an MS4, and they are legally enforceable. Frederick County’s permit expires in December, but the state’s plan is set to be finalized in August.

Leaders from the Maryland departments of environment, natural resources, agriculture and planning gathered local implementation experts and stakeholders from western Maryland at Hagerstown Community College on Monday to review the overarching goals of the new plan, known as the Watershed Implementation Plan. It is the third, and final phase of a multi-state agreement signed in 2010 to reduce nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment pollution in the Chesapeake Bay.

With only one document in hand, it was hard to see how the two would eventually align.

“Will we have time to look at the accounting for stormwater guidelines with those reductions and have the opportunity to utilize that new information prior to this [plan] going into play?” Dorsey asked the panel of agency leaders on Monday.

Yes and no. The Watershed Implementation Plan is an overarching planning document and won’t have details from every MS4 permit before it is completed. However, the agencies are trying to make the plan as close to what will eventually go in those permits, said Greg Busch, the deputy manager of the Integrated Water Planning Program at the Maryland Department of the Environment.

The new permits are also promised to better align with what local jurisdictions think they can reasonably achieve. Frederick County sued the state in 2015 over the details of its original permit, which required 20 percent of all existing impervious surface to be restored — as was the standard for all MS4 permits at the time. The county lost its case and appealed, which was heard by the Court of Appeals in September 2018, The News-Post previously reported.

“We found in phase two that we set some targets that weren’t really achievable for some local jurisdictions. So we wanted to take a step back, learn from that and engage with our local partners and see what was really a feasible, or practicable, implementation for that sector,” said Matt Rowe, assistant director of the Water and Science Administration at the Maryland Department of the Environment.

Weighing solutions

Maryland’s nutrient and sediment reductions will be spread across multiple sectors of the economy to reach its target of sending no more than 45.8 million pounds of total nitrogen and 3.68 million pounds of total phosphorus to the bay by 2025.

To put 45.8 million pounds in context, that would be equal to dumping the weight of 508 Boeing airplanes into the bay.

Agriculture and wastewater treatment plants will provide the greatest sources of reduction, as they have in the past, which was a source of frustration and also exception among farmers.

Maryland’s agricultural sector was assigned to reduce 4.4 million pounds of nitrogen (20 percent decline from 2017 levels), 0.17 million pounds of phosphorus (27 percent decline from 2017 levels) and 75 million pounds of sediment (29 percent decline from 2017 levels) each year through 2025.

“I don’t think [the Maryland Department of Agriculture] would have given us that number unless we could achieve it. It’s not going to be easy. It’s going to take buy-in,” said Colby Ferguson, the government relations director for the Maryland Farm Bureau and a local farmer.

He was more concerned with the use of “buzzwords” that seemed to be poorly defined in the Watershed Implementation Plan or by the agencies themselves. Talk of “comprehensive soil health” is one of them.

“I’m worried, what does that mean? Does that mean we’re going to couch some types of agriculture?” Ferguson said.

Some of the high-reduction practices on agricultural land — such as converting cropland to pasture or planting forest tree buffers — can be economically infeasible for some farmers, Ferguson said. He did not dispute that they are effective, just that it may not be practical for a commodity farmer to reduce their productive acres and remain in business.

Rob Schnabel, the watershed restoration scientist and Chesapeake streams manager for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, was disappointed to see the agricultural sector commit so little to some of the highest reducing strategies.

Thirteen counties and Baltimore city made no commitment to plant any forested buffers along waterways before 2025. Forest buffers with stream-side exclusion fencing is the top nitrogen reduction technique and removes 209.6 pounds of nitrogen per acre.

Frederick County farmers committed in September 2018 to planting 575 acres, mostly at Schnabel’s request, The News-Post previously reported. Carroll County also committed to 336 acres and Washington County to 247 acres.

“I was at Carroll, Frederick and Washington counties, which is why those numbers are higher. ... But the state needs to push some of this,” Schnabel said on Monday.

He also wanted to see the state incentivize the conversion of cropland to pasture, which was previously planned to increase 14,800 acres between 2017 and 2025. Farmers opted for a much lower increase of 2,500 acres.

The cropland will instead be planted in cover crops, which the state plans to pay $25.5 million annually to farmers to plant. Cover crops are an effective tool for controlling nutrients and sediment during the winter months, but a single planting and long-term management of a pasture would be more cost-effective for taxpayers, Schnabel said. The upfront cost of rearing livestock from “birth to fork” is more expensive than growing commodities, Ferguson said.

Pluses and minuses

The other largest reductions will come from wastewater treatment plants, which are projected to reduce 4.7 million pounds of nitrogen (41 percent decline from 2017 levels) and 0.39 million pounds of phosphorus (24 percent decline from 2017 levels) each year until 2025. However, the sector is also projected to add 2 million pounds of sediment to the water annually.

Urban stormwater and local septic systems will contribute much less initially to Maryland’s goals to reduce nutrient pollution in the bay. These sectors will have to catch up over time to bring long-term protection to the bay, Rowe said.

“We have to recognize that different sectors have different paces. Some can get there a little bit quicker, more cost-effectively. Some are more expensive,” Rowe said. “... But at the end of the day, all the sectors have a part to play and need to do the part — do their share — to get us to our big restoration targets.”

A complicating factor for urban stormwater and septic systems is that they are intricately linked to growth and land development. As the population and number of households grow, more impervious surfaces and septic systems will be built in Maryland. The growth will not be insignificant, either, with an estimated 15,000 households being added to Maryland annually through 2045, according to the plan.

Some of the land converted to housing will be from lower-intensity uses such as forests — with 3,000 acres lost annually already — or farmland, which declined 5,103 acres statewide in 2018, according to state databases.

Counties will be required to help reduce 0.2 million pounds of nitrogen (decline of 2 percent from 2017 levels), 0.09 million pounds of phosphorus (13 percent decline from 2017 levels) and 175 million pounds of sediment (43 percent decline from 2017 levels) annually through the MS4 until 2025 to meet the state’s goals.

At this time, the state is expecting to fully meet its 2025 goals. Frederick County has already created several programs to tackle its share of stormwater reductions, including offering a septic pump-out rebate to homeowners, launching a Creek ReLeaf program to replant stream-side riparian areas in permanent tree buffers and investing county funds in stream and stormwater pond restoration, Dorsey said.

Each kind of restoration project comes with a different number of “credits,” which could also change this summer with, or ahead, of the release of the next-generation MS4 permits. This could shift local properties to new projects, but the Maryland Department of Environment is not expecting dramatic changes, Busch said.

“We’re looking to make sure that our expectations for the MS4 permittees that we lay out in the phase three [Watershed Implementation Plan] are as close as possible to what’s actually going to go into the permits, but we recognize we’re not going to get it perfectly,” Busch said.

Follow Samantha Hogan on Twitter: @SAHogan.

Samantha Hogan is the state house, environment, agriculture and energy reporter for The Frederick News-Post.

(15) comments

dston

The WIP3 plan divides the sectors and gives each a responsibility for clean-up to meet the 45.3 tons of nitrogen goal. Old combined sewer systems are a hugh factor, so Wastewater plants have a large reduction as does agriculture in the goals set by the State MDE. Anyone can comment on the plan, as it's open for the next month, but the point is that MD has gone to great lengths to model bay run off and to identify sources as well as solutions - the biggest bang for the buck is to install stream buffer - in other words, adding a 35+ foot tree or grass buffer along streams captures more N for each dollar it costs, so Ag land will contribute more forested buffers in the years ahead, but the urban wastewater plants must also work to solve the ancient combined sewer and storm water sections of piping that allow sewer overflows to go into the storm water piping. Any raw sewage dumps from humans is as bad or worse than raw sewage from cattle. The only negative impact of these buffers is that they increase wildlife habitat right next to streams and must therefore increase excrement in the streams, though this factor is not in the model at present. Further data and testing is needed, but if this keeps EPA out of Maryland's Bay Program and enforcement stays with the state through 2025 and beyond, then we must all hold MDE, MDA and DNR to the fire to do this measurement as best as is humanly possible. We need the Ag industry and food production in Maryland, and farmers have shown a strong willingness to install buffers, no-till planting and other Best Management Practices. So, let's all support the effort and make sure than new solutions are considered. Aquaculture of floating oyster beds may be one of the best " improvements" discovered over the past few years as they remove N that flows from both nature and man-made environments. Submit comments to MDE via the website for the WIP3 Plan page, under Bay Program.

MD1756

As one who worked in EPA's Office of Compliance and Enforcement for 27 years (after working in the private sector for some time) before retirement, I can say that if the costs are high it is because politicians, catering to the wishes of their most generous constituents, implement policies that promote population growth and which don't fully fund infrastructure needs. The idea that "...Some of the high-reduction practices on agricultural land — such as converting cropland to pasture or planting forest tree buffers — can be economically infeasible for some farmers, Ferguson said. He did not dispute that they are effective, just that it may not be practical for a commodity farmer to reduce their productive acres and remain in business...." is part of the problem. Too often a manufacturer, farm operation, municipality, etc. looks at their own direct costs and doesn't really care about the costs they are imposing on others by failing to control their pollution. The days of free discharge of waste went out the door sometime ago when we hard far fewer people (we're now at roughly 7.7 billion). Is it ok to keep polluting the waters and destroying the economic livelihood of those relying on the bay (fish, crabs, clams, etc.). Despite the CSOs and SSOs and stormwater runoff, agriculture is the largest contributor to problems with nitrogen, phosphorus and sedimentation in the bay. As for Frederick discharging raw sewage, they do need to upgrade and properly plan for continued growth and if done properly it is quite affordable. High costs are directly related to poor planning and neglect over time. It is better to do the right thing and comply with the regulations because it will be more costly if EPA needs to step in to enforce the requirements.

DickD

Okay, if the farmer is going to do something for the benefit of all, all should pay the farmer for that support.

MD1756

Yes, that would be through higher food prices to account for the environmental damage.

gabrielshorn2013

MD1756, do you really believe that customers are willing to pay more for food to clean up the environment? Normal human behavior says no, especially if other sources are available. Farmers do not set the prices, the market does. The margins are extremely small, and farmers cannot absorb the cost. Two things will happen. First, food distributors will get their products from cheaper sources, even overseas. Next, the farmer will lose his farm to creditors, and go out of business. The land is far more valuable for housing than farming in this area. You know what happens after that.

MD1756

Gabriel, there are ways to address the issues you raise. We cannot compete with other countries when it comes to labor cost but if we consider the complete costs (environmental impacts of importing food from far off sources, their regulations or lack thereof, etc. and adjust for it, then foreign sources would lose their competitive advantage. I for one will pay more for food to help ensure we are protecting the food supply and the environment. I am not willing to be taxed more to educate children than parents are (as those without children currently are forced to pay more in taxes). If nothing else, the government could put an environmental tax on the food and use that money to pay for pollution control measures. Maybe the government should charge an environmental tax for population growth (either through birth or immigration) to help pay for the increase costs for offsetting the adverse impacts from an increasing population (7.7 billion and growing). Although not required, I've already put in solar and geothermal on/in my home to offset my carbon footprint from home energy use (I've gone carbon neutral/negative depending on the amount of sun we get) and I drive a hybrid to reduce the amount of gas I burn for transportation. I also don't buy food from China (and some other countries) out of concern about the quality/safety of their food.

gabrielshorn2013

MD1756, While you or I might be willing to pay more for an environmentally friendlier item, human behavioral evidence says no. The rise of Chinese or Indian made items winning out over domestic products, where quality is perceived equal but cost less bear this out. Wamart used to sell mostly US made goods. How many US made goods do you see now in Walmart? If speaking of domestic food, local versus out of state, if we tax local farmers to make them cleaner, but also make them uncompetitive, it may precipitate what I described above. Farmers are cash poor, but land rich, especially when developers are willing to pay top dollar for land in this area.

Rockfish

As one who is familiar with MS4 requirements, they are unrealistic and a tremendous financial burden to jurisdictions and property owners. I'm all for protecting the environment but these MS4 requirements and their huge cost don't justify the end gains.

DickD

I think I agree with you, Rock, can you explain your reasons here?

Rockfish

See https://www.bayjournal.com/article/md_county_took_on_runoff_challenge_still_fell_short
$300 million a year state wide. Installed stormwater mgmt. practices can range from a few thousand dollars to a million dollars each. Add to that the cost of maintaining these practices and the price sky rockets.

MD1756

What caused the need for controls? Population growth. Farms are putting sediments and excess nutrients (for the most part, some pathogens too) into the bay. However, storm water runoff can can include many nasty chemicals that should be controlled at current levels of runoff. It would be different if we only had one person per square mile, but again, all of these pollutants are harming the bay and the lives of those who make a living from the resources in the bay. Should those living upstream get a bye from harming those downstream. No.

MD1756

From the article you cite "...That “water quality protection charge” generated funds for retrofitting storm drains and other “best management practices” that would keep sediment and nutrients from washing off pavement and buildings into local streams and ultimately, the Bay... County officials say it was just too much to try to do in such a short time period. In some cases, they point out, community objections delayed projects, resulting in delays to redesign or relocate them... The EPA, in its recent midpoint assessment of states’ Bay cleanup efforts, concluded that “while states have improved their regulatory programs, overall loads in this [stormwater] sector continue to increase due to population growth and development.." All those comments point to promoting growth without proper planning. The costs are higher than what would be necessary with proper planning. As the population and more specifically concentration of people in an area increases, the problems will only get worse and the costs will increase. The problem is not the requirement to clean up but the continual population growth and government policies that promote population growth (income tax deductions and credits for having children). When EPA has a national enforcement initiative against CSO and SSOs the typical complaint by the municipality was they couldn't afford the cost to fix the problem in anything less than 30 years, yet time and again EPA has obtained enforcement consent decrees with much shorter timelines that are affordable (and would have been more affordable to implement before the growth and poor system maintenance that caused the problems). The article also shows that MoCo is doing much more to try to solve the problem than other communities which may have a larger overall contribution to the problems with the bay's health. I'd much rather be taxed to support cleanup of our impacts on the environment rather than subsidizing people having children. It's now time to pay the piper.

DickD

All of this about storm runoff and nothing about Frederick City dumping raw sewage into the Monocacy. If you are going to get serious about this, go after the worse offenders first and that is Frederick City.

gabrielshorn2013

[thumbup][thumbup][thumbup]Dick!

dston

like in DC, it will cost tons of money to find all of the combined outflows, and more to replace piping where sewer overflows were allowed to " find" the stormwater pipes. DC has spent the first $ 1 billion on it ! ( and decided to build a huge containment basin to send water to blue plains after storms, rather than dig up thousands of back yards and neighborhood streets looking for combined piping that was never put on maps !

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Engage ideas. This forum is for the exchange of ideas, insights and experiences, not personal attacks. Ad hominen criticisms are not allowed. Focus on ideas instead.
TURN OFF CAPS LOCK.
Don't threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
No trolls. Off-topic comments and comments that bait others are not allowed.
No spamming. This is not the place to sell miracle cures.
Say it once. No repeat or repetitive posts, please.
Help us. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.