Citizens: Plan not enough to protect Mattawoman
Restoration process debated during public hearing
Protecting the environment, especially the Mattawoman stream valleys, has been a hot topic in Charles County for some time — and that did not change during last Tuesday’s public hearing concerning the county’s Watershed Protection Financial Assurance Plan.
The plan was established by state regulation under the Maryland Department of the Environment. Karen Wiggen, a planner with the county’s Department of Planning and Growth Management, said the plan’s purpose is
to meet impervious surface restoration requirements for costs and revenues.
The plan examines the county’s limits over the next few years and is added into the county’s budget. The county must meet municipal separate storm sewer system (MS4) permit, according to state regulation, by 2020. The financial assurance plan helps the county get to that point by setting regulations and financial
policies, which include having a 20 percent impervious surface restoration rate by 2020.
“It’s a fairly new bill and this is our first time for doing a financial assurance plan,” Wiggen said. “Particularly the purpose is to look to see if we have the funding to do the 20 percent impervious surface restoration requirement. That is the most expensive requirement of the MS4 permit.”
The funding sources for the plan come from four different funds, Wiggen said, all within the county’s budget. The stormwater
protection and restoration fund, inspection and review fund, environmental service fund and the general fund all play a role in the plan, she said.
“All of these funds have already been through the official public adoption process so none of the numbers are new. They’re all existing,” Wiggen said.
The county has just over 7,000 acres of untreated impervious surface, Wiggen said, and 1,410 acres must be treated to meet the restoration requirement. There are 223.4 acres already treated, she said, which cost $6.59 million over the last eight years. Treating the land included implementing street sweeping programs, storm drain vacuuming and septic pump outs.
Eric Fisher, an environmental advocate and Charles County citizen, said polluted runoff is a Chesapeake Bay problem,
but it also affects the Mattawoman watershed and Port Tobacco River.
The runoff from impervious surfaces brings flooding, erosion and trash issues, plus chemicals into the streams of the county. It is “not a good neighbor,” Fisher said.
“It basically turns a living resource into a chute for pollution,” Fisher said. “It’s basically a result of development.”
The rest of the battle is “fixing what is already here,” Fisher said, and the permit would help do that.
But the plan authorizes trading wastewater treatment capacity until more stormwater treatment projects become affordable, and that does not have the same positive effect on the environment, Fisher said.
There will be some nitrogen reduction from using wastewater treatment capacity, Fisher said, but the trash and pollution issues
in the streams are not addressed. The community practicing environmentally-friendly greening policies will be left as a missed opportunity.
The county needs to look at trading and make sure they are getting the best deal, which may not involve trading at all, Fisher said. And it may soon be outlawed by the Department of the Environment, he said.
Jim Long, president of the Mattawoman Watershed Society and a Charles County resident, said he agreed with Fisher’s assessment on trading. The Environmental Protection Agency has not approved trading to acquire an MS4 permit, he said.
If the county chooses to rely on trading, Long said, disapproval of the financial assurance plan from the state could be on the horizon.
“It reminds me of the time when the county was rampantly permitting subdivisions on the gamble that the cross county connector would be approved,” Long said.
Mattawoman is on the brink of irreversible degradation from impervious surface damage, Long said. The MS4 permit requires a restoration plan from the county for the Mattawoman watershed, but Long said the county’s current restoration plan does not meet those requirements.
That same restoration plan, Long said, is what the county is basing its financial assurance plan off of. It is not good enough, he continued.
“It fails to provide a schedule or end dates to meet the required nitrogen reduction to the Mattawoman,” Long said. “From the standpoint of the Mattawoman’s health, it’s actually much worse.”
By 2025, nitrogen pollution will be 400 percent greater than the Mattawoman’s state regulated baseline, Long said.
Bonnie Bick, a member of the Smarter Growth Alliance for Charles County, said impervious surface issues for the county need to become a priority. For Mattawoman Creek, she said, 300 additional projects may be necessary to restore it to its proper levels.
“It’s expensive,” Bick said. “And I am extremely concerned because this is only about past impervious surfaces. Nothing about future impervious surfaces.”
The past and the future need to be considered, Bick said. If they are not, she said, the hole the county is in will become deeper.