Environmental groups are calling on Maryland officials to tighten new limits on farmers' use of animal manure and sewage sludge for fertilizer, saying rules recently proposed by the state don't go far enough.
Farming and local government groups have objected that the proposed rules are costly and largely unnecessary, and state officials eased a few provisions in response.
Environmental groups, though, want even tougher limits, arguing that agriculture remains the largest source of Chesapeakey Bay pollultion and that manure accounts for half of the runoff from Maryland farms. They contend the proposed rules on fertilizing fields are looser in key respects than limits imposed on farmers raising large flocks of chickens or herds of livestock, making it possible for more polluted runoff from the more lightly regulated fields.
They urge eight changes in the rules, including moving up from 2016 to 2014 the wintertime ban on applying fertilizer to farm fields. They also want tighter limits on storing manure or sludge in fields, keeping fertilizer farther away from drainage ditches and streams and barring the applicaiton of any manure or sludge on fields already saturated with phosphorus, one of the plant nutrients responsible for the vast "dead zone" that forms every summer in the bay.