ANNAPOLIS, Md.—Washington County’s share of a statewide plan to reduce nutrient and sediment discharges to the Chesapeake Bay is estimated to cost the county $1.1 billion through 2025.
That number was greeted with ridicule and disbelief when it was mentioned last year.
The Washington County delegation to the Maryland General Assembly is working with state and local officials to better understand the situation, and, if possible, mitigate some of the costs.
Robert Summers, secretary of the Maryland Department of Environment, met with local legislators and county officials Wednesday in Annapolis.
“We are figuring out what the best way going forward is for our constituents,” said Del. Andrew A. Serafini, R-Washington. “The true cost of this is still being worked out.”
Serafini likens the effort to better understand the state plan to the Affordable Health Care Act and how states are grappling to understand what the costs of the health care plan might be.
Legislators have some options, he said.
“We can say we can reform or fine-tune the law,” Serafini said. If that happens at all, he said, it likely will take several Maryland General Assembly sessions.
The other option, he said, is to “work with the plan as it is implemented.”
The nutrient and sediment reduction targets have been set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, requiring individual states and the District of Columbia that drain into the Chesapeake to come up with a plan on how to achieve the target.
States also have to account for discharges because of future development and have a plan to minimize pollutant loads. Another issue at stake is a state law that passed last year restricting development in rural areas.
The plan in Washington County
Julie Pippel, director of the Washington County Division of Environmental Management, said the $1.1 billion cost that had been estimated was a starting number.
“That’s just a high point. Now, we are working on alternatives to bring that number down,” Pippel said.
The estimated cost for reducing nutrient discharges, including managing wastewater and stormwater and costs of upgrading some types of septic systems, add up to the initial amount.
County officials are working on a plan suggested by a group consisting of local stakeholders. That could mean working with the Maryland Department of the Environment to clarify how the “target amounts” of nutrients to be reduced were arrived at.
An excess of nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus in the water lead to algae blooms that reduce the amount of oxygen in the water, thus affecting marine life.
The plan is to tackle the task in bits and pieces — by working on projects that are part of the county’s Capital Improvement Projects such as upgrades to wastewater treatments plants, Pippel said.
Educating the public on how they can reduce nutrients is another option.