Easton Utilities wastewater treatment plant. Photo courtesy Easton Utilities.Maryland is on track to upgrade all of its major wastewater treatment plants.

CBF Finds Maryland Clean-Up Progress Praiseworthy, but Calls for Greater Transparency

Maryland achieved six out of eight of its short-term goals for cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, according to an assessment conducted by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) and Choose Clean Water (CCW). The organizations released details of the assessments to the public July 9.

One troubling note: the state revised some of its goals downward after clean-up efforts had started.

Nevertheless, CBF applauded Maryland for its progress, and also credited Governor O'Malley and the Maryland General Assembly for taking actions this spring that should sustain the success.

"Not only did Maryland make significant progress in these recent short-term goals, the groundwork has been laid for future success as well," said Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) Maryland Executive Director Alison Prost. "Policies and funding passed by the legislature this year will tackle the growing problem of urban and suburban stormwater runoff, and will continue to reduce pollution from agriculture and wastewater treatment."

The history of Chesapeake Bay restoration is full of long-term goals set—then missed. As a result, the Chesapeake Bay Executive Council committed three years ago to short, two-year goals, or "milestones" to reduce pollution to local rivers, streams and the Bay, and to science-based pollution reduction targets and state implementation plans to achieve the targets.

In 2009, the Executive Council issued the first of its milestones for the six states in the Bay watershed, as well as the District of Columbia. The states and Washington promised to reach those goals within the 2010-2011 period, by implementing a specific set of measures and practices.

CBF and the Choose Clean Water evaluated the progress of Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania in a subset of implemented practices within three pollution source categories—agricultural runoff, urban/suburban sources, and wastewater treatment.

Overall, Maryland achieved six out of the eight practices selected for evaluation. Achievements in wetland restoration, cover crops, and wastewater were notable. The state nearly achieved its goal for upgrading failing septic systems. Maryland fell short in fencing livestock out of streams, and in retrofitting obsolete stormwater systems in suburbs and cities.

Maryland modified many of its milestone goals prior to 2011—in most cases, downward—without any explicit public notification or input. Without these adjustments, the state would have achieved three of its eight goals, not seven. For instance, originally Maryland said it would plant trees along 5,100 miles of streams in the state, then adjusted the number downward to 895 miles. The state exceeded the revised goal, but not the original.

State officials told CBF they used a process of "adaptive management," through the BayStat Program, to recalculate milestone goals based on funding resources and local input. Officials have agreed to publicly post implementation progress by county for agricultural practices beginning in fiscal year 2013, and to provide greater transparency for decision-making that may result in future milestone changes.

In a press release announcing the milestone assessments, CBF called on Maryland to redouble its efforts to retrofit stormwater systems, plant forested buffers, and to upgrade septics, and to provide more transparency in management and reporting of milestones.

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