Mary­land wants to weaken win­ter ma­nure rules

Baltimore Sun - - COMMENTARY - By Jef­frey H. Horstman Jef­frey H. Horstman is executive direc­tor of the Mid­shore River­keeper Con­ser­vancy and the river­keeper for the Miles and Wye rivers; he is also a mem­ber of the Mary­land Clean Agri­cul­ture Coali­tion. his email is jeff@mid­shoreriver­keep

We all try to meet our obli­ga­tions in life, whether per­sonal or pro­fes­sional. Liv­ing up to our com­mit­ments builds trust and earns a wor­thy rep­u­ta­tion.

That’s why it’s so dis­ap­point­ing that the Mary­land Department of Agri­cul­ture is propos­ing to weaken the ban against spread­ing ma­nure and sewage sludge dur­ing win­ter months by al­low­ing for cer­tain ex­emp­tions.

This im­por­tant en­vi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tion, which was adopted in 2012 and went into ef­fect this past July, is de­signed to keep ma­nure and pro­cessed sewage from waste­water treat­ment plants from run­ning off into our wa­ter­ways.

Agri­cul­ture is an im­por­tant in­dus­try on the Eastern Shore, but it’s also the sin­gle big­gest source of pol­lu­tion to the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay. In or­der to re­duce pol­lu­tion from agri­cul­tural runoff, Mary­land banned spread­ing ma­nure and sewage sludge dur­ing win­ter when the ground is of­ten frozen (after Nov. 1 on the Eastern Shore and Novem­ber 16 on the West­ern Shore). This is just com­mon sense be­cause most crops don’t grow dur­ing win­ter and frozen or hard ground can’t ab­sorb fer­til­izer.

But it isn’t just an­i­mal ma­nure that’s af­fected; waste­water treat­ment plants process hu­man sewage and then spread that on agri­cul­tural fields as “fer­til­izer.” This may be ac­cept­able dur­ing the grow­ing sea­son, but dur­ing win­ter months, this is just waste man­age­ment, pure and sim­ple.

The win­ter ban reg­u­la­tion ap­plied to an­i­mal ma­nure and pro­cessed sewage, called biosolids. To give farm­ers and waste­water utilities time to pre­pare stor­age fa­cil­i­ties or take other steps to com­ply, the reg­u­la­tion did not take ef­fect un­til four years after adop­tion. Many other con­ces­sions were made at the time, and the re­sult­ing rules were a com­pro­mise.

So now, as win­ter ap­proaches and the new rules fi­nally kick in, all of a sud­den the state ap­pears to be weak­en­ing them, ac­cord­ing to a pro­posed amend­ment to the reg­u­la­tion, printed in the Mary­land Regis­ter last month. The pro­posal comes amid claims that in­dus­try needs more time to get their win­ter stor­age fa­cil­i­ties ready. Re­ally? What have they been do­ing for the last four years? Plenty of farm­ers and biosolids com­pa­nies were able to com­ply in time. Let­ting oth­ers off the hook is hardly fair to the ones who met their obli­ga­tions and played by the rules.

We aren’t go­ing to make progress on clean­ing up our lo­cal rivers and the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay if we balk ev­ery time some­one says some­thing is too hard or that they need more time. I don’t want to see any more toxic al­gae blooms or dead zones in Eastern Shore rivers or any rivers in Mary­land. And I don’t want to see farm fields on the shore be­come “dump­ing grounds” for pro­cessed sewage.

The cur­rent win­ter reg­u­la­tions are based on sci­ence and are de­signed to pro­tect pub­lic health and wa­ter qual­ity. Weak­en­ing them will re­sult in more ma­nure and biosolids on the ground for longer pe­ri­ods of time and re­sult in more pol­lu­tion. And that’s what the state is propos­ing. The weak­ened reg­u­la­tions would al­low spread­ing ma­nure or biosolids when the ground is frozen less than two inches or the snow cov­er­ing is less than an inch. Who’s go­ing to mon­i­tor and track that?

In a Nov. 7 state­ment, Mary­land Agri­cul­tural Sec­re­tary Joe Barten­felder him­self said, “Ap­ply­ing fer­til­izer to hard or frozen ground pro­vides a di­rect path­way for nu­tri­ent runoff into the storm drains that feed the Bay. Ex­cess nu­tri­ents pro­mote the growth of al­gae which can dev­as­tate aquatic sys­tems. Ev­ery­one needs to do their part to pro­tect the health of lo­cal streams and the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay.”

I agree. We must not back­slide on at­tempts to clean up nu­tri­ent pol­lu­tion. We all are work­ing hard to re­duce pol­lu­tion and pro­tect our com­mu­ni­ties; it’s part of our com­mit­ment as Mary­lan­ders. And to be suc­cess­ful, we all need to live up to our com­mit­ments and obli­ga­tions. I’m sim­ply ask­ing the Mary­land Department of Agri­cul­ture to live up to its com­mit­ments and not weaken ma­nure reg­u­la­tions that pro­tect our wa­ter­ways from pol­lu­tion.

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