County passes plan to ensure funding for stormwater projects
On Monday, Sept. 19, the Baltimore County Council passed its financial assurance plan that will ensure stormwater cleanup projects lead to water quality goals, as mandated by the Clean Water Act and enforced by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Although officials remain confident they will be able to meet the EPA’s criteria, the financial assurance plan shows that funding levels for stormwater projects will see a stark drop in fiscal year 2018.
After the stormwater remediation fee — which was originally initiated in 2012 — was repealed at the state level, county governments were given the option to continue charging the fee, referred to as the rain tax. If county governments ended the fee, they would be required by the EPA to create a financial assurance plan that would demonstrate actions that would result in improved water quality.
The Baltimore County Council voted in October 2015 to phase out the fee by July 2017.
The EPA requires that the financial assurance plans “indicate how stormwater runoff will be treated and paid for over the next five years and will provide the financial roadmap for complying with the EPA’s total maximum daily load (TMDL) requirements, also known as the ‘pollution diet’ for Chesapeake Bay.”
A TDML works the same way as a nutrition diet. If a waterway has too much of a certain pollutant, a plan is developed to identify the cause and solution.
Eighteen TDML plans have been completed by the county and three are in development, with the expectation of being completed by early 2017, according to the financial assurance plan. A total of 25 TDML plans have been submitted to the Maryland Department of the Environment for review. The plans seek to limit the amount of certain pollutants, which include: bacteria, sediment, phosphorous, nutrients, mercury, chlordane, PCBs and trash.
David Lykens, deputy director of the county’s environmental protection department, said the county has to “get it done” with or without the stormwater remedia- tion fee.
“We just have to do more projects,” he said.
Street sweeping and inlet cleaning are two ongoing projects that seek to reduce pollution from stormwater runoff.
Projects must also be completed too as a part of the impervious surface restoration plan. Areas with high amounts of impervious surfaces like roads and sidewalks are subject to greater amounts of pollution from stormwater runoff.
A number of capital projects, such as reforestation projects and upgrades to stormwater maintenance ponds, aim to reduce the county’s impervious space and improve treatment of stormwater. Other projects will work with the Baltimore County Department of Public Works to enhance the county’s infrastructure to improve handling of stormwater runoff.
In the past, the stormwater remediation fee has generated around $24 million for projects. That number dips to $16 million in fiscal year 2016 and $11 million in fiscal year 2017, before being eliminated entirely in 2018.
The projects will continue to be funded by the county, as required, but the county will lack the additional revenue generated by the fee. Funds used to support stormwater cleanup efforts will see a sharp dropoff in fiscal year 2018.
In fiscal years 2014 to 2017, the annual funding never dips below $32.8 million, and it raises as high as $73 million in 2017, when the county uses $43 million of surplus funds from capital funding in previous years.
But in fiscal year 2018, the funding dips to $18.8 million.
“Having the money always helps,” Lykens said. “But we have to get it done. We’re working on getting through the requirements by 2018. We have shown we can make the requirements by 2018.”
Back River and Patapsco River are graded as the least healthy tributaries in the Chesapeake Bay region, according to the University of Maryland’s Center for Environmental Science.
The MDE has said that stormwater runoff is a leading contributor to pollution in these tributaries, due to their proximity to urban and suburban areas.
A link to the MDE’s financial assurance plans can be found here: http://www.mde.state.md.us/programs/Water/ StormwaterManagementProgram/SedimentandStormwaterHome/Pages/WPRPFinancialAssurancePlans.aspx
Baltimore County’s plan can be found here: http://www.mde.state.md.us/programs/Water/ StormwaterManagementProgram/SedimentandStormwaterHome/ Documents/Baltimore% 20County%20FAP%20and%20WPRP%20Annual%20Report.pdf.
With I-695 and Eastern Boulevard crossing it, and with the community of Essex nearby, Back River is surrounded by impervious surfaces that contribute to pollution from stormwater runoff.