Thursday 29 June 2017

In its opinion in three cases involving MS4 permits, the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that the Maryland Department of Environment (MDE) is complying with the bare minimum legal requirements for municipal storm sewer system regulations.Weak MS4 permitting in Baltimore City will allow for continued illicit runoff.

“That may be good enough for the court and for MDE, but meeting the bare minimum requirement is not good enough for our rivers and the Chesapeake Bay watershed,” said David Flores, Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper, one of the challengers in the case. 

It has been several years since these cases first began wending their way through the Maryland courts. Although the outcome was not what they had hoped it would be, the plaintiffs will continue to advocate for a more rigorous and transparent process as part of the five-year renewal cycle.

Some of these permits will renew as early as 2018. That will be a time for each jurisdiction (Baltimore City and Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Montgomery, and Prince George’s counties) to step up their efforts to strengthen their permits — and for the public to be engaged in demanding more from their governing entities.

Finally, while we may have to accept this court’s opinion as little more than a token toward water quality improvements, the court did not exempt MDE from using its enforcement tools to require compliance to these baseline goals. We know that the EPA Region 3 (Chesapeake Bay inclusive) has put MDE on notice for its lack of compliance review.

"Stormwater is the only pollution sector in the Chesapeake that is actually increasing, so our Riverkeepers are going to have redouble their efforts to monitor and ensure compliance with the permit terms," said Betsy Nicholas, Executive Director of Waterkeepers Chesapeake.

“Maryland cannot keep doing the bare minimum required under the law if it wants to have any hope of cleaning up and protecting its rivers and streams,” said Jennifer Chavez of Earthjustice, who argued the case before the Court of Appeals. “Community and conservation groups across Maryland will continue pressing MDE to issue stronger stormwater pollution limits.”

The removal of the "impaired" designation for the 53 river segments in 17 Maryland counties, including on the Eastern Shore, and Baltimore City effectively gives the rivers the same Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) pollution diet as the main stem of the Chesapeake Bay.

"Pollution doesn't just originate in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay," Waterkeepers Chesapeake Executive Director Elizabeth Nicholas said. "We have to look at all of the smaller creeks and streams that are suffering impaired water quality throughout the watershed."

READ MORE: StarDem.com, March 9, 2016

Kathy Phillips, a prominent poultry critic, called the proposal "distressing." If built, the houses will expose area schools and established residential neighborhoods to "unfiltered polluted air emissions" and lead to "increased truck traffic on narrow roadways," she said.

Phillips, the Assateague Coastkeeper, charges that the new chicken houses will surely only add to the Wicomico River tributary's woes.

Phillips has little faith in the current regulations offering much protection.

"That this proposed industrial CAFO is somehow consistent with the surrounding community, which has changed dramatically in recent years from rural to suburban, is indicative of how outdated and broken our zoning codes are on the Lower Shore," she said.

READ MORE: DelmarvaNow.com, March 9, 2016