Waterkeepers Chesapeake Position on the Phosphorus Management Tool

No more delay: Protect our communities from manure pollution

The Maryland Department of Agriculture and Governor O’Malley’s administration bowed to pressure from the agriculture lobby and chose delay over protecting our families and communities from the harmful pollution that is choking our waterways. On Friday, November 15, the administration withdrew its proposed regulations to implement the new Maryland Phosphorus Management Tool, designed to reduce phosphorus pollution caused by excessive application of manure. This marks the third delay in the implementation of these critical regulations, while the problems from phosphorus pollution in our waterways continue to grow.

Phosphorus pollution causes algae blooms that kill underwater grasses, threaten human health, harm aquatic life like blue crabs, oysters and fish, and create an enormous “dead zone” in the Bay. Runoff from manure may also include harmful bacteria and dangerous pharmaceuticals.

The agriculture industry keeps pushing for further delays, which will ultimately make meeting their state and federal requirements to reduce pollution more difficult and more expensive. Many Maryland farm fields with a history of manure (and biosludge) application have phosphorus levels that far exceed what is needed for successful crop growth. Fields with high phosphorus levels can pollute nearby waterways and the Chesapeake Bay. Delaying implementation of this tool will result in excessive levels of phosphorus continuing to be applied to the fields and continuing to pollute nearby streams and waterways. The longer we wait to implement the tool – the more polluted the fields and streams will be.

Marylanders depend on clean water for the health of their families and the health of our overall economy. Waterkeepers Chesapeake supports the timely implementation of the Phosphorus Management Tool, which the state has committed to doing in its Watershed Implementation Plan. We have joined other organizations from the Maryland Clean Agriculture Coalition in calling for Governor O’Malley and legislative leaders to honor their previous commitments. In a letter sent on behalf of these groups on November 22, we write:

According to BayStat, agriculture is the single largest source of pollution to the Bay with more than half of the phosphorus pollution in Maryland coming from farms. How much more delay will occur before we tackle the ongoing problem of dumping excess manure on farm fields that leak phosphorus pollution into our waters?

The Phosphorus Management Tool offers a valuable method to help keep harmful pollution from being applied to the land, entering our streams and ultimately hurting our communities.