State submits draft bay pollution plan to EPA

Maryland's environmental agency filed with federal regulators Thursday a draft of the most detailed Chesapeake Bay "pollution diet" plan to date.

"The Watershed Implementation Plan is going to affect everybody," said Margaret Enloe, spokeswoman for the Chesapeake Bay Program, the restoration partnership of the Environmental Protection Agency, bay states and the District of Columbia. "There are so many benefits that can come out of it."

The draft represents the second part of a "three-phase planning process that extends to 2017," according to the Maryland Department of the Environment's filing, which was made available online, and breaks down the state's pollution-reduction tactics county by county.

The plan is intended to get Maryland, by 2025, to its federally mandated limits for the amount of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment that can go into the bay from state land.

"The county plans are very, very different from each other," said Samantha Kappalman, MDE's communications director. Some rural counties' plans are focused on reducing agricultural runoff, while others, like that of Baltimore, are geared toward improving wastewater treatment facilities and eliminating storm-water and sewer overflows, she said.

All Maryland counties except Calvert submitted plans for the draft, Kappalman said. The state "back-filled" the plan to account for Calvert's expected reduction totals, she said, and anticipates that the team in that county will submit a plan by the time the plan is presented for public comment.

The state had previously hoped it would reach those goals five years sooner, by 2020, but Maryland Environment Secretary Robert M. Summers recently told The Baltimore Sun that the cleanup cost to local governments led O'Malley administration officials to extend the deadline to the EPA-imposed finish line of 2025.

Over the course of a year, the MDE worked with teams composed of local government staff, soil conservation managers and business groups in each county to design a plan that fits their region. For instance, Anne Arundel County's team included the South River Federation and the Navy, while Howard County's team included the Columbia Association and the school system.

"It had to be specific, locally based solutions to reduce pollution," said Kappalman of the Watershed Implementation Plan's Phase II. "They had control over their own destinies."

The local control over the submissions allowed for significant variation in the detail that each jurisdiction provided. Baltimore County, for instance, provided a 74-page plan that includes tables to show the effect each pollution-reduction strategy would have over time and has mapped each septic system with its watersheds. Baltimore, on the other hand, submitted seven pages that more generally address how it intends to reduce impermeable surfaces and improve storm-water systems.

The drafts submitted this week by Maryland and other bay jurisdictions — Virginia, the District of Columbia, West Virginia, Delaware and Pennsylvania — will be revised by federal and state agencies over the next month, in order to open them up to public comment in mid-January, Kappalman said. New York's submission for the plan is pending, according to the EPA.

Enloe hopes the public will review the proposed drafts and provide comments to the state agencies and the EPA.

The plan "does affect how we use our land," said Enloe. "They need to look at these and really be informed."

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