Planning Assistance in Action
Most people living in the Mid-Atlantic region know the Chesapeake Bay as the source of Maryland Blue crabs, oysters and countless opportunities for recreation. However, most people are probably not aware that with a watershed covering more than 64,000 square miles, fed by more than 150 rivers and streams and spanning parts of six states and Washington D.C., the Bay is the largest estuary in North America and one of the most productive bodies of water in the world .
The Bay boasts more than 300 species of fish and shellfish and provides critical habitat for numerous other types of wildlife. And, with the region home to more than 83,000 farms, covering approximately 30 percent of the watershed and generating more than $10 billion annually, and supporting one of the largest commercial deep-water ports in the country, it becomes clear how vital the Chesapeake Bay is to the local and national economies. Nevertheless, over the past 150 years or so, the Chesapeake Bay has experienced environmental stress as a result of over-harvesting, deforestation, draining of wetlands, and pollution from industry and agriculture. Over the years, various non-profit initiatives, public campaigns, and legislation have championed preserving this invaluable ecological and commercial resource.
On April 12, 2019, the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) posted the draft Phase III Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP) to their website along with a schedule of upcoming opportunities for public participation and comment. The public comment period remains open until June 7, 2019.
The Phase III WIP is the third chapter of a process started nearly a decade ago and is the product of a collaborative effort of a number of Maryland state agencies making up the Governor’s Chesapeake Bay Cabinet, including: the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE), Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Department of Planning (MDP), Department of Agriculture (MDA) and Department of Budget and Management (DBM), with MDE taking the lead in plan development. In developing the Phase III WIP, the Bay Cabinet worked in conjunction with county public works and planning departments, municipalities, soil conservation districts, non governmental organizations (NGOs), and the public to identify and assess both best practices and strategies, along with their accompanying challenges and successes identified to date, that would inform future actions and benchmarks to be achieved in Phase III and beyond.
So, what exactly is a WIP? And what is new and different about Phase III? A WIP is a plan that “documents the steps, measures, and practices Maryland and its local jurisdictions will take and implement to achieve and maintain” the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) of sediment and certain nutrient pollutants, namely nitrogen and phosphorus, in the Bay by the year 2025. Maryland is just one of seven Bay jurisdictions (DE, D.C., MD, NY, PA, VA and WVA) required to develop WIPs under TMDL regulations created by the U.S. EPA in December 2010 (these can be viewed in the Environmental Protection Agency’s Chesapeake Bay TMDL Document).
Phase I and Phase II focused on actions to be implemented by both 2017, the midway point of the TMDL process, and by the targeted completion date of 2025. The Phase I and II WIPs can be accessed here. Maryland’s 2025 TMDL targets are 45.8 million lbs. for nitrogen and 3.7 million lbs. for phosphorus. The state is on track to meet the TMDL goals for phosphorus by 2025, and it is anticipated that assigned phosphorus reductions will achieve sediment targets, as well. Thus, nitrogen is the primary focus of the Phase III WIP Draft because there is still a gap in achieving the Maryland’s nitrogen goals.
Relying on data collected during Phase I and Phase II, the Phase III WIP focuses on meeting 2025 targets, but also creates strategies for continued Bay restoration and health into the future. Specifically, Phase III includes “local input and aligns with anticipated agriculture, stormwater, septic, and wastewater goals, as well as all permit requirements. These local goals set achievable expectations for local partners that can help guide related budget planning and capital projects.”
To meet these levels, the Phase III WIP adopts two primary approaches: first, setting incentives to optimize pollution reduction performance at Maryland’s wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) and, second, expanding implementation of agricultural standards and best practices to achieve results beyond Phase II WIP projections. More information for local jurisdictions can be found under the “Local Plans” section of the Phase III Draft. Finally, this is the first of the three phases to “factor in the potential impacts of climate change in addition to a first-ever restoration plan specifically for the effects of the Conowingo Dam on water quality in the lower Susquehanna River and the Chesapeake Bay.
To access the Phase III WIP Draft and/or to submit comments, please visit MDE’s Comment Form. To learn more and to take part in the public participation and Phase III WIP review process, interested parties can attend one of several public Informational Sessions to be held across the state beginning April 29 and/or attend a webinar scheduled for May 17th. Dates, locations and registration information can be found on the Public Participation page.
Consider getting involved and do your part to support the unique and precious habitat and the diverse economies supported by the Chesapeake Bay!
 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) website: https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/chesapeake.html [Back]
 MDE website: https://mde.maryland.gov/programs/Water/TMDL/TMDLImplementation/Pages/wip.aspx [Back]
 Maryland’s Draft Phase III WIP FAQ: Phase III WIP FAQ [Back]
 MDE press release, April 12, 1019: https://news.maryland.gov/mde/2019/04/12/maryland-releases-draft-chesapeake-bay-restoration-plan/ [Back]