Tracking the Efficacy of the Bay’s Pollution Diet
The Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) was established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in response to a 2009 Executive Order signed by President Obama and a May 2010 settlement of a lawsuit between the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the EPA (Fowler v. EPA), which created what is locally known as the “pollution diet” for the Chesapeake Bay.
Under the TMDL, limits are established with respect to the threshold in the amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment which may be released into the Bay in order for it to function as a healthy estuary.
As part of the TMDL, each state within the Chesapeake Bay watershed (MD, VA, WV, PA, DE, and NY) must establish a Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP) to achieve these goals within a specific timeline, with an ultimate end date of 2025.
Maryland’s Watershed Implementation Plans
Maryland has already completed the creation of three WIPs: Phase I Phase II, and Phase III in the hope of satisfying these TMDL mandates.
The Phase II WIP also required local governments to establish WIPs at the county scale, with the combination of all of the county WIPs supporting the overall State WIP.
In the WIPs the State further instructed that certain measures must be undertaken to achieve the TMDL goals with regard to “source” sectors, including septics, stormwater, agriculture and wastewater treatment plants.
Each county in Maryland is also required to prepare, implement and report on a WIP to reach TMDL goals by reducing the levels coming from point and non-point sources, including stormwater, wastewater and agricultural runoff.
Issues with MD’s WIPs
These requirements were imposed without any regard to the economic costs and implications that would undoubtedly burden our local governments as a result. The agenda established by the State’s Phase II WIP created an ineffective top-down, one-size-fits-all approach that did not consider the actual needs of, or its negative impact upon, our local governments and their taxpayers.
The third and final phase of implementation called for the development of Phase III WIPs which provide information on actions the jurisdictions intend to implement between 2019 and 2025 to meet the goals of the Chesapeake Bay TMDL.
Maryland’s Final Phase III WIP and that of the six other jurisdictions was published on August 23rd, 2019.
The Phase III WIP for Maryland appears to have acknowledged the impracticable nature of Phase II and the comments CCC submitted reflect our members’ appreciation of this more collaborative approach.
This new WIP includes the owner of Conowingo Dam, Exelon, as one of the parties responsible for addressing the pollution that has built up in the reservoir and rushes into the Upper Bay when extreme weather conditions cause scouring as spill gates are opened.
Drafts of Phase III WIPs for each jurisdiction (other than Conowingo) were released and open for public comment until early June 2019. Scroll down to the bottom of the page to view each one in its current form.
Coalition counties are also pleased to see the State taking an interest in natural aquatic filters as a long-term strategy for improved water quality and climate resiliency.
We are disappointed that aquaculture holds primacy in the plan given that a thriving wild oyster population provides more long-term benefit. Not only are most aquaculture specimens triploids (meaning they cannot reproduce), but they’re kept in cages and removed at 2 1/2 inches (while wild oysters must be at least 3″). Floating or bottom cages will not result in new oyster bars which not only provide habitat for other Bay creatures, but also offer the benefit of new barriers that can reduce shoreline erosion.
Click Here for 2022/2023 Milestone Priorities for Maryland’s Phase III WIP
EPA Evaluations of WIPs
On December 14th 2019, the U.S. EPA released its evaluations of the Final Phase III Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs) from Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia to reduce nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment pollution to the Chesapeake Bay.
The EPA is taking no enforcement action against Pennsylvania, whose Phase III WIP has been heavily criticized by downstream states and NGOs for being feckless on nitrogen reductions, underfunded and out of sync with PA county plans. The EPA gave another pass to the state (PA) with the largest pollution loads to account for within the Chesapeake Bay, which does not bode well for protecting Maryland’s ongoing efforts and investments downstream.
With EPA signing off on the Phase III WIPs, attention must now be focused on the Conowingo WIP to ensure that plan includes action to meaningfully address the Conowingo factor by way of sediment management and dredging what is already accumulated in the reservoir in order to regain trapping capacity.
Each jurisdiction developed goals based on midpoint assessment of progress and scientific analysis of water quality and other measurements. Actions outlined in Phase III will be implemented between 2019 and 2025. As a part of the review process, the Maryland Department of the Environment has called for the addition of a new jurisdiction specifically related to the Conowingo Dam and its environs.
Draft Conowingo WIP
In October 2020, the Conowingo WIP Steering Committee released a draft Conowingo WIP for public comment. The coalition has much to say about the approach thus far taken by the Steering Committee and consultants using the same tired BMPs and downstream mitigation logic to address the Conowingo factor, all the while dodging and downplaying the potential benefits of sediment management and dredging.
Click here to see January 2021 CCC Comments on Draft Conowingo WIP
2022: EPA Declares “No Confidence” in Conowingo WIP
Per a January 24, 2022 letter to state officials (attached below), the U.S. EPA has expressed “no confidence” in the proposed Conowingo Watershed Implementation Plan due to lack of funding, giving Bay states 60 days to respond. Without an EPA approved Conowingo WIP, the additional 6 million pounds of nitrogen and 0.26 million pounds of phosphorus attributable annually to the Conowingo factor will need to be redistributed among all the Bay states via the Bay TMDL – which would be an unjust outcome to downstream jurisdictions.
See a news article discussing the matter here: EPA Declare “No Confidence” in Conowingo Cleanup Plan
Bay Journal (Feb. 1, 2022)
2023 : Conowingo Watershed Implementation Plan (CWIP) Two-Year Milestones Progress Summary – January 2023
Other States Phase III WIPs
Ours is not an either/or position. While we have focused much attention on the Conowingo factor and upstream pollution, we acknowledge the importance of addressing localized pollution sources and the water quality in our tributaries, creeks and streams.
We embrace an all-of-the-above strategy to improving and maintaining the health of the Chesapeake Bay; but with concerted attention on the largest point sources of pollution loading to the Maryland portion of the Bay and priority given to the most cost-effective endeavors.
Presentation Materials from Upper Eastern Shore Phase III WIP Workshop on June 15, 2018:
Building a Phase III WIP
Funding Part 2
Funding Part 3
Chesapeake Bay Trust 2018 Annual Report
Chesapeake Bay Trust FY19 Budget
Chesapeake Bay Trust Resiliency through Restoration Handout
View Presentation Materials from Past WIP Workshops
View the Maryland Association of Counties blog posts regarding the WIP dilemna faced by taxpayers and our local governments.
Other WIP & TMDL Resources
EPA Chesapeake Bay TMDL Website
U.S. Environmnetal Protection Agency
Maryland’s Phase I Watershed Implementation Plan for the Chesapeake Bay Watershed
Maryland Department of the Environment
Maryland’s Phase II Watershed Implementation Plan for the Chesapeake Bay TMDL
Maryland Department of the Environment
Maryland WIP Phase II County Plans
Maryland Department of the Environment
Maryland’s Phase III Watershed Implementation Plan
EPA Expectations for Phase III WIPs
U.S. Environmnetal Protection Agency, ChesapeakeBay Program