After decades of effort, the voluntary, collaborative approach to restoring the health and vitality of the Chesapeake Bay— the largest estuary in the United States—has not worked and, in fact, is failing. A diverse group of 57 senior scientists and policymakers have joined forces to save the Bay. This is our plan.

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Author Archives: Erik Michelsen

The Session of the Bay

(Posted by Erik Michelsen)

In preparing for the 2012 Maryland Legislative session, the memories of largely unproductive sessions for the environment in 2010 and 2011 were very fresh. The combined environmental community – the Clean Water, Healthy Families coalition – resolved to be more focused, to pursue a direct request of legislators, and to focus on goals that would have a measurable impact on improving water quality. Those goals were:

• Finish upgrading the wastewater treatment plants that Maryland has already committed to upgrade.
• Ensure that local governments have resources to reduce polluted stormwater runoff and implement their local clean water plans.
• Reduce pollution from poorly planned development – including limiting new septic systems.
• Require that all wastewater discharges, including septic systems, are treated at the highest levels to protect public health and ensure clean water.

The first two goals were explicitly stated in Maryland’s Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP) and comprised the core funding strategies for the state’s efforts to address pollution from its central urban and suburban corridor. The last two were focused on ensuring that we don’t erase any gains we make via the first two by developing in a way that creates a staggering amount of new pollution.

As the clock ran down on the legislative session yesterday, the future of the Chesapeake and Maryland’s rivers hung in the balance. Early in the day, legislation to double the Bay Restoration Fund (or “flush fee”) passed, followed by a bill aimed at limiting sprawling growth by restricting where septic-served subdivisions can be located. The debate on a bill to require the 10 largest jurisdictions in the state to create dedicated stormwater restoration fees carried on late into the evening, with opponents, largely from the eastern shore and western Maryland, attempting to filibuster until the end of session, at midnight.

At one point, the floor leader for the bill, Senator Paul Pinsky, asked the opponents – many of whom had invented, and then promulgated, the notion of a “war on rural Maryland”  – why, when they opposed additional water quality regulations on farms on the grounds that agriculture wasn’t the only source of pollution to the bay,  they opposed a bill whose impacts fell most heavily on the densest areas of the state. The opponents fell back to a line of defense that can only be characterized as diversionary. They argued that Maryland’s overall pollution contribution was insignificant compared to the contribution of other states, that the cost of compliance was too expensive, and that the Chesapeake Bay TMDL “pollution diet” was in litigation, so there was no need to rush to address it.

Never mind the fact that the bill was aimed at jurisdictions with an MS4 stormwater permit, which has conditions and requirements that exist independent of the TMDL. Eventually though, the filibuster was shut down, those in favor of the bill in the Senate prevailed, and the bill was sent back to House and passed with 10 minutes to spare in the session.

The community still intends to pursue, through regulations, a requirement that all new septic systems be built using the best available technology, but we ended the evening with three of our four goals in hand and a strong commitment to address the fourth. There can be little doubt that the 2012 session will go down in Maryland lore as the “Session of the Bay,” despite the fact that it was tumultuous in many other respects.

And, with the close of the 2012, Maryland’s cities, town, and suburban enclaves are well positioned to meet their pollution reduction goals going forward. They have developed their plans and now have been given the tools to implement them in a timely fashion. There still remains important work to be done in other sectors, though, with Maryland’s nutrient management regulations still under consideration and an agricultural community divided over its willingness to be a full player in the recovery of Maryland’s most valuable natural resource. The session has ended, but the journey to restoration has just begun.

Using Development to Drive Bay Recovery

(Posted by Erik Michelsen.)

According to the Chesapeake Bay Program’s estimates, pollution from urban and suburban stormwater runoff is the only sector where nutrient loads are currently growing in the Bay watershed. On much of the western shore of the Chesapeake, including the Baltimore-Washington metro counties, agriculture is an increasingly rare land use, shifting daily to the eastern shore or Midwest. And in Maryland, the Bay Restoration Fund (aka “Flush Tax”) is being used to upgrade wastewater treatment plants to the best available technology. Yet, these areas consistently suffer from some of the worst water quality in the Chesapeake region (see EcoCheck Chesapeake Bay Report Cards).Continue Reading

Is It Illegal to Restore the Bay?

(Posted by Erik Michelson.)

After centuries of unregulated wetland filling, land clearing, and shoreline modification, over the course of the past several decades, federal, state, and local regulations have been put in place ostensibly to reverse the trend of the declining health of the country’s waterways. As a rule, these have taken the form of a sequence of three options: “avoid, minimize, mitigate.” So, in the context of a development project, impacts to wetlands or trees in the critical area buffer should be avoided if at all possible, and if not avoided, minimized. Any impacts that do occur, should either be mitigated, or offset, preferably on the same site where they originally occurred, but if not there, somewhere else in the same jurisdiction. Continue Reading

Thoughts on the 2011 Maryland Legislative Session

Posted by Eric Michelsen.

Perhaps you’ve heard it said that in Chinese the character for “crisis” is the same as the one for “opportunity”. I know I have. A quick search of the internet, that great dasher of self-delusion, suggests that this assertion was probably wishful thinking guided by a poor translation. Nonetheless, I think there’s a great deal of merit to the idea of embracing turbulent times as a vehicle for positive change. And, there’s little question we’re living in turbulent times.
Continue Reading

We Have a Plan, Now We Need Leadership

Posted by Erik Michelsen.

Late last year, when Maryland turned in its roadmap for cleaning up the Chesapeake to the federal government, many of us held out considerable hope that it would not only detail strategies for how we, collectively, are going to clean up our portion of the Bay’s pollutants, but also clearly articulate the ways that the state would finance this multi-billion dollar initiative. Continue Reading