SNOW HILL – The most cost-effective water quality improvement practices should come first, Worcester County staff recommended to the County Commissioners in a report on the Maryland Coastal Bays Nutrient Management Strategy.
The new strategy came out of the most recent coastal bays policy committee meeting.
“The idea is to implement the CCMP [Comprehensive Conservation Management Plan] and give it a little bit more in the way of specifics,” said Worcester County Comprehensive Planning Director Sandy Coyman.
Some commissioners questioned the timing of making recommendations on the strategy now with several bills in front of the Maryland General Assembly that could impact the strategy.
Commissioner Louise Gulyas wondered if legislation now under consideration that further limits farm run-off could affect the strategy,
Coyman said that the run-off law could impact the strategy, as could House Bill 1141, on water resources. Some provisions in that legislation are similar to the recommendations in the nutrient management strategy, he said.
“I just didn’t want it to have a backlash,” Gulyas said.
Commissioner Judy Boggs brought up the Critical Areas legislation now in front of the General Assembly, which is intended to strengthen that water quality law.
“The legislation is really going to impact the coastal bays,” said Boggs. “Is it necessary to approve right away or would it be prudent to wait?”
Gulyas is concerned that the critical area buffers might change, she said, although she has no problem with the staff recommendations.
“This is a response to what’s already been passed what’s in place right now,” said Commission President Virgil Shockley.
If new legislation is passed, he said, the commissioners will respond then.
The nutrient management strategy does fit with recommendations already in, or implied by, the water quality elements of the 2006 Worcester County Comprehensive Plan, Coyman said.
Coyman strongly recommended pursuit of best management plans like cover crop planting, which takes up nutrients from agriculture over the winter and prevents those nutrients from washing into local waterways in winter rains. Cover crops cost $1.50 per pound of nitrogen reduced, while stormwater retrofitting costs $150 per pound of nitrogen reduced.
“Let’s do the things that give us the biggest bang for our buck first,” Coyman said. “Let’s pursue the ones that are least expensive and most effective before getting involved with others.”
More funding needs to be assigned to the cover crop program to enroll all farmers interested in participating. County staff agrees with the nutrient management strategy that a specific implementation plan that maps locations, determines cost effectiveness and assesses available resources is necessary.
Septic systems must be addressed to improve water quality, but county staff would like to see language on improving those systems changed from “requires” to “recommends.”
The coastal bays are called an area of special state concern, but that has never been fully imposed, according to the strategy plan, which calls for mandatory advanced nitrogen removal technology on new residential septic systems in the 1,000 foot Coastal Bays Critical Area; and on replacements for failed or retrofitted systems; as well as for new or repaired commercial and multi-family residential septic.
The commissioners voted unanimously to accept staff recommendations on the extensive strategy.