College of Agriculture & Natural Resources
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Harry R. Hughes Center for Agro-Ecology

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2018 Spring WIP Recommendations

These recommendations resulted from the five workshops held throughout Maryland in June 2018, the purpose of which was for state agencies overseeing Bay cleanup to gather input from local communities on the next phase of the state's Watershed Implementation Plan. Hughes Center interns Danielle Naundorf and Alison Venable aggregated and formatted the concerns in preparation for a presentation to the Maryland Governor's Bay Cabinet.

The recommendations, as presented to the Bay Cabinet on July 10, 2018, by Hughes Center Executive Director Suzanne Dorsey, were as follows:

BACKGROUND:

The Harry R. Hughes Center for Agro-Ecology (Hughes Center) in conjunction with the Maryland Departments of Agriculture and the Environment, held workshops to support the state’s Watershed Implementation Planning (WIP) efforts, with support from the Town Creek Foundation. As the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) is planning for implementation of Phase III of the WIPs, the Hughes Center facilitated five regional workshops to support strong relationships between agencies and implementers as well as to hear regional concerns in all 23 counties and Baltimore City.

Each workshop focused on state and local partnerships through presentations from MDE, Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA), the University of Maryland Sea Grant Extension Program and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. The presentations focused on a review of the progress from Phase II, an overview of the Phase III WIP process, information on funding resources, and updates from the stormwater, wastewater and agricultural sectors. Overall, each sector expressed a desire to know the specific goals for their sector and region. The timing of the release of goals along with the sense of urgency around a 2025 deadline was frequently noted as a risk to success.

 

Recommendations:

1) Expert Infrastructure

Across all sectors, technical assistance was the most commonly cited hindrance to implementing and maintaining nutrient reduction practices. Small communities in rural areas of the state lack the staff needed to access funds and manage BMP (best management practice) projects. And while the permitting process has been a successful structure to implement, validate, and credit stormwater BMPs in larger municipalities, in non-MS4 areas, little infrastructure exists to support a growing need for non-agriculture BMP implementation.

Allocating additional resources for a locally focused group of experts would alleviate the burden on governmentsstaff and boost BMP implementation. In agriculture, the Maryland Department of Agriculture uses county-level Soil Conservation Districts in that manner. County experts not only work one-on-one with farmers to implement BMPs, but have built trust and relationships with them.

A similar route could be taken in the non-permitted stormwater sector; the Maryland Sea Grant Extension Watershed Restoration Specialist program is an example of a statewide infrastructure of experts which has worked in previous WIP phases. While limited in staff and funding, these five specialists use a boots-on-the-ground approach to assist local governments and organizations with funding opportunities, clarification of credit applications and formulate innovative partnerships among communities. They support all aspects of BMP design through implementation. Most importantly, the restoration specialist staff members have built trusting relationships with diverse local partners.

2) Cross-sector Connections

There is an ongoing lack of understanding between sectors. Meanwhile, a need for collaboration grows. During workshops, rural communities consistently questioned the lack of movement from urban sectors, while urban communities questioned whether agriculture was meeting its goals.

Innovative approaches to nutrient reduction, such as the Water Quality Trading Program, pay-for-performance solutions and green investing will promote cross-sector relationships as well as establish a lasting framework for success beyond 2025. By allowing the trading of credits, each sector becomes aware of and values the contributions of the other sectors. Improved cross-sector relationships will facilitate a framework for lasting communication and cooperation. Nutrient credit trading, along with performance and investment in innovations, must be transparent and validated. Crediting new approaches should be conservative so that some inevitable failures don’t threaten progress.

 

Issues Raised

There were several key areas of concern described below. The specific questions and concerns around these issues are attached as Appendix 1.

LOCAL EXPECTATIONS AND GOALS: Local governments, farmers and nonprofit organizations seek from Maryland regulators specifics on what is to be expected of them in the Phase III WIP. While these June workshops provided a general overview of the WIP moving into Phase III, few specific numbers were provided, mainly because those numbers were unknown. MDE and MDA should work directly with implementers and their expert advisors: Soil Conservation District agents, Extension, Sea Grant Extension Watershed Restoration Specialists, county WIP leaders, among others. The Hughes Center will host six regional workshops on the Phase III WIP goals this year.

TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE: The lack of technical assistance for implementing projects was especially noted. Confusion over grant processes and requirements were frequently addressed. In addition to a lack of staffing, it was reported that lengthy and time-consuming grant management was keeping organizations from implementing BMPs. This concern was especially prevalent in smaller jurisdictions and local governments where delays in payment were raised as a concern. We suggest streamlining grant and permitting processes and customer focused grant management to allow for more timely BMP implementation.

APPLICATION OF CREDITS: There is concern over how credits are administered. A desire for cross-sector implementation — if a county supports an agricultural BMP, for instance — demonstrate the opportunity that trading may afford. In addition, several regions desire to see stewarded land trust properties supporting WIP goals by being counted as nutrient credits. Cross-sector approaches will open a new source of innovation and implementation that will support success beyond 2025.

BMP VERIFICATION: Reliability of older non-agricultural BMPs was a concern due to a lack of inspection and maintenance. How will new BMP verification programs be funded and who will be accountable for maintenance? MDA has a demonstrated verification program that should be replicated regionally.

SEPTIC SYSTEMS: Septic connections were especially noted as a concern due to the increases in population and the need to address aging and failing septic systems. Agencies are urged to address septic needs not only from the narrow purview of the Bay Program but in a broader context that includes property values/tax revenues and human health risks. Thus, the value to local communities of improving septics extends beyond the WIP.

SEWAGE SPILLS: Constituents are concerned with sewage overflows not being accounted for in the Bay model. Clear communication about the overall impact of spills and specific steps that urban partners are taking to reduce/eliminate overflows is needed. The impact on local fisheries perhaps has not been fully considered — a closure of a shellfish area can have significant financial implications to watermen/aquaculture. Using permit violation fines to support fisheries and enhance implementation of oyster BMPs should be considered.

ALIGNING FOR GROWTH: All regions sought a better understanding of the specifics of “Aligning for growth.” Climate change, increased population and land use change were of concern to localities

Figure illustrating how each of the issues raised can be addressed by the two recommendations. The blue boxes represent the recommendations, while the gray boxes represent the issues.

(Figure illustrating how each of the issues raised can be addressed by the two recommendations. The blue boxes represent the recommendations, while the gray boxes represent the issues.)

 

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