Maryland officials are seeking public feedback as they draft the state’s next steps in the long-running effort to restore the Chesapeake Bay.

In a workshop with local officials and others from Central Maryland, state officials discuss development of a new “watershed implementation plan” to guide the state’s Chesapeake Bay cleanup efforts through 2025. (Timothy B. Wheeler)

Earlier this week, officials with the state departments of the Environment and Agriculture briefed local officials, nonprofit leaders and others about the cleanup progress to date and the tough issues still to be faced.  While water quality is improving, the Bay’s oxygen-starved “dead zone” is shrinking and underwater grasses are rebounding to record levels, they said more needs to be done to fully restore the Chesapeake — and keep it that way.

“We have some challenges ahead, some difficult decisions to make,” said Lee Currey, water and science administration director for the Maryland Department of the Environment. “We need to be creative.”

The gathering Tuesday in Catonsville was the first of five public workshops to take place across Maryland this month, as officials draft a new watershed implementation plan intended to guide the state’s Bay cleanup efforts.

Maryland and five other states in the Bay watershed, plus the District of Columbia, are in the process of developing their third set of cleanup plans since 2010 for complying with the far-reaching “pollution diet” that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency developed that year for the Bay. Through this mandate, officially called a total maximum daily load, the EPA requires each jurisdiction to have measures in place by 2025 that will achieve its nutrient and sediment pollution reduction targets for the Bay.

Despite passing and tightening laws and regulations to limit stormwater runoff, nitrogen pollution from development continues to grow. (Graphic by Maryland Department of the Environment)

Maryland officials say the new plan will build on what has been accomplished under previous plans, which yielded significant reductions in nutrient and sediment pollution through wastewater treatment plant upgrades and the reduction of runoff from farmland. A recent report by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation noted that Maryland met its interim 2017 cleanup goals for phosphorus and sediment, but fell short in reducing nitrogen pollution.

“Our hard work is paying off,” said Dinorah Dalmasy, manager of water planning for the MDE. But, she added, “as we are getting closer to the goal, it is not getting any easier.” She noted, for instance, that stormwater pollution reductions made to date have been offset or outpaced by growth.

For Maryland’s push to reach its 2025 cleanup goal, officials said they hoped to enlist market forces and creative financing to drive additional pollution reductions from wastewater, stormwater and agriculture. The plan also must address issues expected to make restoration harder to achieve, or maintain, such as the release of nutrients from behind Conowingo dam, increased rainfall from climate change and continued development.

Currey and other speakers asked the audience to suggest content for the new plan. Recommendations included promoting land conservation, increasing oversight and enforcement, and paying more attention to the maintenance of pollution control measures.

Free and open to everyone, the workshops are sponsored by the University of Maryland-affiliated Harry R. Hughes Center for Agro-Ecology, with funding provided by the Town Creek Foundation.

The schedule of remaining workshops follows.  Doors open at 9:30 a.m., and sessions run from 10 a.m. to 3 or 4 p.m., with lunch provided. Advance registration is required.

  • Lower Eastern Shore (Dorchester, Somerset, Wicomico, Worcester counties): Thursday, June 14 at the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center, 500 Glen Ave. in Salisbury. Register at go.umd.edu/leswipworkshop.
  • Upper Eastern Shore (Caroline, Cecil, Kent, Queen Anne's, Talbot counties): Friday, June 15 at The Milestone, 9630 Technology Drive in Easton. Register at go.umd.edu/ueswipworkshop.
  • Southern Maryland (Anne Arundel, Calvert, Charles, Prince George's, St. Mary's counties): Monday, June 18 at the Charles Soil Conservation District, 4200 Gardiner Road in Waldorf. Register at go.umd.edu/smdwipworkshop.
  • Western Maryland (Allegany, Frederick, Garrett, Washington counties): Tuesday, June 19 at the Williamsport Banquet Hall, 2 Brandy Drive in Williamsport. Register at go.umd.edu/wmdwipworkshop.