In June there was a significant sediment spill from the construction project at Rt. 2 and Admiral Cochrane Drive into Church Creek. The RIVERKEEPER alerted Anne Arundel County personnel, who responded quickly and determined that the spill resulted from the failure to install a stormwater bypass prior to grading a portion of the site for the project’s ultimate stormwater management system. When one of June’s heavy rains came, the disturbed earth was washed offsite and into Church Creek. Despite the acknowledged failure to install a necessary stormwater bypass as required on the construction plans for this project, County personnel advised the RIVERKEEPER that no fines or other penalties would be levied against the contractor. The choice not to impose any penalty was made because, according to the County, such penalties are usually challenged in court, and that judges generally decline to uphold them if an environmental violator has taken steps to correct the problem, so it is simply a waste of resources to attempt to assess a fine, despite acknowledged environmental damage.
This timidity to enforce the law led Federation staff to initiate a comprehensive audit of the County’s environmental code compliance since 2014. The effort is intended to reveal how often environmental violations have resulted in imposition of a penalty, including stop work orders and civil fines, how often those penalties are challenged in court, and when challenged, how often the penalty is upheld by the court. County personnel have expressed interest in the ultimate findings of this audit, and represented to the Federation that such an effort has never been made before. The Federation hopes that the audit will reveal any systemic shortcomings in the County’s environmental code enforcement, and thus inform the Federation’s subsequent efforts to remedy those shortcomings.
Learn more about Riverkeeper Jesse’s Enforcement Audit here.
The Clean Water Act established the requirement that any facility which discharges pollutants into waters of the U.S. obtain and comply with a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit. The South River has 49 NPDES permittees in its watershed. Your South RIVERKEEPER reviewed the information available on the EPA’s Enforcement Compliance History Online (ECHO) website to identify those NPDES permittees with a history of non-compliance with their permits, and submitted Public Information Act requests to the Maryland Department of Environment in June to learn the precise nature and extent of these facilities’ permit violations. The Federation expects this effort to inform a campaign intended to bring non-compliant facilities back into compliance with the terms of their permits, and to identify any permits which merit revision to require stronger environmental protections based on established water quality requirements.
In May of 2016 Governor Hogan allowed the Sustainable Oyster Population and Fishery Act to become law without his signature. This law required a stock assessment to be performed by the Department of Natural Resources in conjunction with the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science to determine the current population of oysters in the State and use biological reference points to determine what harvest rates are sustainable for the fishery. The South River Federation supported this bill from the outset, and the RIVERKEEPER submitted written and oral testimony to the General Assembly in favor of the legislation.
The stock assessment was issued on December 1, 2018 and found that the Bay’s oyster population in 2017 (about 300 million oysters) is less than half what it was in 1999, and about what was harvested annually at the peak of the oyster fishery’s production, in the late 1800’s.
Although the Federation has engaged in oyster restoration since the founding of the South River Federation, the stock assessment highlights the need to ramp up oyster restoration everywhere, including the South, West and Rhode Rivers and Herring Bay. This is why the Federation has joined the Chesapeake Oyster Alliance, a coalition of over 40 NGO’s, academic institutions, and oyster aquaculturalists united behind the goal of planting 10 Billion oysters in the Bay by 2025.
The Federation is doing its part through partnership with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation to build large-scale oyster restoration reefs and through expansion of the Marylanders Grow Oysters program in partnership with MD Dept. of Natural Resources and the Oyster Recovery Partnership. In 2018, The Federation spread 4.5 million oyster spat on the South River sanctuary reefs. Together, we can bring the iconic Eastern Oyster back from the brink of extinction in the Chesapeake Bay.
Many will recall the controversial Watershed Protection and Restoration Program established in 2012 in response to the Chesapeake Bay TMDL* established by the EPA in 2010. This law was intended to curtail the impact of stormwater on the Chesapeake Bay by requiring collection of a designated fee based on a property’s amount of impervious surface from businesses and residents in the State’s 10 largest municipalities, which all carry a Phase I NPDES Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System permit (MS4) including Anne Arundel County. Thanks to improvements in wastewater treatment plants and agricultural practices, stormwater runoff remains the only source of pollution to the Bay that is still growing.
Nonetheless, Governor Larry Hogan made repeal of the fee, which he disparaged as the “rain tax,” a priority of his candidacy, and in the first legislative term after taking office, his administration was able to curtail the program by removing the requirement of a designated fee. However, the EPA mandates still apply to the Phase I MS4 jurisdictions, so the removal of the fee means that MS4 jurisdictions must demonstrate their ability to meet the required reductions in stormwater some other way. To that end, Anne Arundel County and the other MS4 permittees must submit Financial Assurance Plans detailing the stormwater work that needs to be done, the funding sources to pay for it, and how the work will achieve the reductions required by Environmental Protection Agency. Anne Arundel County elected to retain its designated fee and thus provided greater security that the County will meet its stormwater reduction targets.
Anne Arundel County’s current MS4 permit expires in February, 2019, and the County’s most recent annual report indicates that it has not met its stormwater pollution reduction targets through in-the-ground restoration practices. The County has obtained permission from MD Dept. of Environement to meet those targets through nutrient trading, although as as of December 2018, no nutrient trading has actually occurred in the Chesapeake Bay. The Federation has commented on the financial assurance plan submitted by Anne Arundel County, and will continue monitoring progress attained and aspired to under the MS4 permit.
From 2015 through 2018, the “rain tax” funded the initiation of over 170 new stormwater projects of which an 100 have been completed.
*TMDL = Total Maximum Daily Load