County Seeks Input on Plan to Clean Up Waterways
Experts say Howard County is one of many jurisdictions that will need to significantly decrease pollution going into local rivers and streams.
Early next month, Howard County Public Works officials will begin laying out the second phase of a Watershed Implementation Plan, which is a roadmap to cleaning the county's waterways and, in turn, the Chesapeake Bay.
In December of 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency released a "diet" for the bay–a Total Maximum Daily Load–which calls for a decrease of nitrogen and phosphorous flowing into the bay and its tributaries.
Howard Saltzman of the Howard County's Storm Water Management Division says the state of Maryland asked counties to carry out plans to reduce the loads of nutrients that deplete resources in the bay.
"The [Watershed Implementation Plan] is going to require us to do a whole lot more than we're doing today," said Saltzman.
According to data from the Maryland Department of the Environment, Howard County released about 1.5 million pounds of nitrogen into its waterways in 2009 and about 87,000 pounds of phosphorous. Newly adjusted goals have the county releasing 1 million pounds of nitrogen and 65,000 pounds of phosphorous by 2017.
But Howard County is not at all the only jurisdiction that will need to change its ways. Prince George's County released about 3 million pounds of nitrogen into waterways in 2009 and Montgomery County released more than 4 million pounds.
"What's going to be required to meet the [Chesapeake] Bay TMDL is a whole lot more than anybody is [currently] doing," Saltzman said.
One local environment advocate agrees and says the county has yet to find a balance between development and environment.
"Where growth and land use factors greatly influence water quality and compliance, there needs to be ways to both grow while protecting water quality," said Patuxent Riverkeeper Fred Tutman. "I don’t think Howard County has a lucid answer for that at all yet."
Tutman says growing areas like Howard County are finding it difficult to balance economic development with new environmental restrictions and responsibilities.
"Folks are finally starting to see the inherent trade-offs and limitations of how bad environmental practice comes at a cost that catches up with you," Tutman said.
Saltzman says a key difference from Phase I of the local plan is that the county can restructure how it makes the pollution reductions–between the areas of storm water, agricultural runoff and septic systems. According to Saltzman, the amount of pollution reduction will be the same, but deciding which sources of pollution to target will depend on which are most "cost effective."
"We're not coming out and saying 'here is our plan' and, actually, part of it is to let people give us any ideas they may have," Saltzman said.
The county's past projects to curb storm water pollution included rain gardens, bioretention areas, retrofitting ponds and stream restorations.
In May, the county council approved a capital budget with $10 million for such stormwater and remediation projects–an increase of more than 155 percent from last year.