Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint
Maryland's Watershed Implementation Plan
What is a Watershed Implementation Plan?
In 2010, after decades of voluntary efforts to restore the Chesapeake Bay failed to remove it from the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) list of "impaired" waters, EPA established an enforceable pollution limit known as a "Total Maximum Daily Load" (TMDL) for the Bay and its tidal rivers. The TMDL, a provision of the Clean Water Act, is a scientific estimate of the maximum amount of pollution the Bay can tolerate and still meet water quality standards. Pollution reduction by the six Bay states and the District of Columbia is essential to cleaning up the Bay.
Subsequently, Maryland and the other six jurisdictions agreed to create state-specific plans to implement 60 percent of their Bay cleanup practices by 2017 and 100 percent by 2025. These plans are called Watershed Implementation Plans or WIPs and will not only help restore the Bay, but will also significantly improve the health of local waterways. Collectively, the TMDL and the WIPs establish the Cleanwater Blueprint for the Chesapeake.
in millions of pounds per year
||2017 Interim Goal
|Go to Maryland's WIP website >>
How Much Progress Has Been Made?
Since 1985, Maryland and the Bay states have achieved slightly more than half of the nitrogen pollution reductions and two-thirds of the phosphorus and sediment reductions necessary to meet Bay restoration goals. These reductions appear to be working, as a 2013 study of actual conditions in the Bay by the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins University showed that the size of the Bay's oxygen-starved "dead zone" has shrunk specifically because of efforts from the Bay states, including Pennsylvania.
But the work is far from done.
Maryland's Two-Year Milestone Progress
Eastern Shore Assessment
Maryland's Eastern Shore has a special connection to the Chesapeake Bay. CBF's Eastern Shore Office and the CCWC released a report that summarizes progress of counties on the Eastern Shore in cleaning the water in their local creeks and rivers over the past two years.
The findings were not encouraging.
Read the Report
Read the Press Release
To track progress toward achieving the 2017 and 2025 deadlines for implementing the Cleanwater Blueprint the Bay states and the District of Columbia agreed to establish interim, two-year cleanup goals called Milestones, and to publicly report progress toward achieving them beginning January 2011. The two-year Milestones and progress reports are a critical tool to hold the states and EPA publicly accountable.
In January 2014, the seven Chesapeake Bay jurisdictions' submitted their progress toward meeting their 2012-2013 Milestones and Watershed Implementation Plan goals to EPA.
On June 11, 2014, CBF and Choose Clean Water (CCW) released an analysis of selected Milestones. The goal of this analysis was to ensure that commitments were met, and if not, that actions are taken to compensate for any shortfall.
Maryland has exceeded 2013 Milestone goals for five of the seven practices examined in this report. However, we wonder if Maryland should be setting more ambitious goals for some like forested buffers and animal waste management systems. Increased adoption of these highly efficient practices could be an effective strategy to achieve needed pollution reductions, especially considering the lack of progress on certain less-efficient practices.
There is progress across most source sectors in Maryland for nitrogen and phosphorus. Agriculture has made the sharpest improvement in nitrogen load reductions, with a larger suite of available practices that are more readily implemented. Capital investments in wastewater treatment continue to show steady progress, while Maryland has only just begun the significant investments needed to reduce polluted runoff.
One practice, urban forest buffers, did not have a milestone goal but was included because it has multiple environmental benefits and has significant long-term goals. Implementation so far is only 17 percent of the 2017 goal—which leaves a long way to go in just four years. Across the state and across source sectors, planting trees is being neglected as a valuable practice.
Assessment of Maryland's Progress on Selected Pollution-Reduction Practices for 2013
|Animal Waste Management Systems
||As animal waste management is the most efficient agricultural method for reducing nitrogen, it is critical that the state set and meet bold milestones for this practice. The two-year milestone was exceeded. Accelerated progress on animal waste management will be required to meet the 2017 goal.
||Maryland's agriculture community has already met the 2017 goal for this practice and is well on its way to meeting the 2025 goal. As the second-most-efficient practice behind animal waste management, the state should consider increasing the targets for this practice to achieve greater pollution reductions.
||Grass buffers along streams are only slightly less efficient than forested buffers for removing nutrients, but they lack the other important habitat features that forested buffers provide. Progress on this practice is similar to that of forested buffers as it has exceeded the 2017 goal.
||Outside the areas near streams, additional tree planting calms erosive winds, sequesters carbon from the atmosphere, and improves soil organic matter. Progress on this practice has been lost as there are 1,000 fewer acres in 2013 than there were in 2011.* The state needs to plant 4,000 additional acres to meet the 2017 target for this BMP.
|Retrofit Stormwater Management
||New polluted runoff permits issued for Maryland's largest jurisdictions will accelerate progress for this practice. But these permits do not account for growth in impervious surfaces. This practice is a “catchall” for several urban practices. The long-term goals reflect Maryland's intent to change how they are reporting.
|Urban Forest Buffers
||No goal set
||Maryland did not set a 2013 goal for this practice and literally has miles to go. The state needs to plant 1,474 more acres of streamside forest in the next three years. At 100 feet wide, that's more than 121 miles to meet the 2017 goal, and 2,605 miles to meet the 2025 goal. It is time for Maryland to commit to progress on urban forests.
||Getting a late start, Maryland has connected over 1,300 systems and converted about 5,100 systems to Best Available Technology (BAT), meeting nine percent of the 2017 goal. BAT systems require routine maintenance to remove pollutants, so homeowners need to do their part and the state needs to hold them accountable.
Source: Chesapeake Bay TMDL website
View the complete report
Animal waste management nutrient reductions are achieved through nutrient-management plans on each farm. While the two-year goal was exceeded, implementation must increase by 55 percent to reach the 2017 goal. Tree planting on agricultural lands needs to increase and be more accurately reported. Maryland has exceeded the 2025 goal for a suite of polluted runoff retrofits identified in the Watershed Implementation Plan, but significant polluted runoff retrofit requirements facing Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems (MS4) jurisdictions in Maryland must also be addressed in future milestone commitments.
You can track progress for all Bay jurisdictions on EPA's Chesapeake Stat website. On EPA's Chesapeake Bay TMDL website you can read about progress already being realized.
What Obstacles Does the Cleanup Face?
The work is far from done. Over 5,800 miles of Maryland rivers and streams remain impaired, meaning they don't meet standards set in the federal Clean Water Act. The state warns residents against swimming or coming in contact with water for 48 hours after a thunderstorm because of contamination running off the land. Fish kills, algae blooms and other phenomenon also remain common as the Bay struggles to right itself.
In short, the Chesapeake remains an ecosystem dangerously out of balance. That becomes a problem for everyone, from watermen who no longer can make a living on the water, to homeowners whose basements flood with putrid water during storms.
Vexing problems remain to be ironed out. Reducing and treating polluted runoff is expensive, but also necessary. Dedicated funding is needed for the job, especially as several counties and cities are required by state-issued permits to reduce this pollution. Maryland's also is relying on these reductions to help meet its overall pollution limits.
Feasible solutions also are needed to reduce pollution from septic systems. This is particularly a problem in rural areas where builders depend on septic systems to develop far from existing communities that have sewer systems. A home on a septic system discharges up to ten times the amount of nitrogen pollution than a home on a sewer line. So continuing to allow thousands of new septic systems only nullifies the progress we have made reducing pollution from farms, sewage plants and other sectors.
Apathy, finger-pointing, anti-Bay legislation and lawsuits, powerful interest groups, and a bad economy all threaten to derail the collaborative local/state/federal Bay cleanup. Yet most experts consider this the Chesapeake Bay's best, and perhaps last, chance for real restoration. The problems have been identified; we have the know-how and tools to fix them; and the benefits—such as job creation—of a restored Chesapeake Bay manifestly outweigh cleanup costs. If we work together to make the pollution limits work, many scientists believe the Chesapeake Bay will reach a tipping point when improvements outpace pollution and the Bay rebounds exponentially.
Join Us Today!
Join our Action Network and we'll keep you informed of key issues and steps you can take to save the Bay.