CHESTERTOWN - Maryland's top environmental official disagrees with those who call the Chesapeake Bay model used to establish pollution reduction goals flawed and he wants the state to continue moving forward with efforts to clean up the watershed.
On Dec. 26, Maryland Department of the Environment Secretary Robert M. Summers issued a three-page response to a letter from state Sen. E.J. Pipkin, R-36-Upper Shore, voicing concerns over the bay cleanup program.
Pipkin sent letters to both the MDE and the Department of Natural Resources. A spokesperson for the DNR said Secretary John Griffin's response would be issued sometime this week, although it was not available as of press time.
Pipkin has been critical of the Environmental Protection Agency's program, which, based on a computer model, sets total maximum daily loads for pollutants into the bay. The focus of his concerns is the Conowingo Dam, and the sediment released from it after heavy storms.
Pipkin wanted to know both departments' “positions” on the Susquehanna River and the Conowingo Dam. Summers wrote that the two agencies are working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the EPA and others in finding a means to reduce sediment pollution behind the dam.
Responding to Pipkin's question about whether or not the MDE and DNR will be involved in the federal relicensing process for the Conowingo, Summers said his agency is responsible for reviewing and issuing the dam's Clean Water Act Water Quality Certification, a prerequisite for relicensing.
As for the bay model Pipkin called “flawed,” Summers said Maryland and other watershed states are working with the EPA to improve it, not because it is “flawed,” but because “we are committed to continually seeking the best possible scientific and technical information to guide our restoration efforts.”
In his letter to Summers, Pipkin said the sediment that flows through the Conowingo after an event like Tropical Storm Lee in 2011 has the potential to wipe out efforts to clean up the bay.
“This is certainly not true, as we observed specifically with Lee,” wrote Summers. “Although Lee was a major storm, the Bay, and in particular, the submerged aquatic vegetation covering the Susquehanna Flats at the point where the river joins the Bay have been recovering and as a result were resilient enough to weather the storm and continue on their path to recovery.”
Summers agrees that Lee had a major impact on the bay, but said such storms are infrequent. He said tributaries like the Chester and Choptank rivers are more “directly influenced” by nearby sources.
“Just like the reservoirs in the lower Susquehanna, sediment and nutrients are trapped in every farm pond, stormwater pond and reservoir throughout Maryland's portion of the watershed and storm events carry pollutants off the land and out of impoundments into local streams and rivers,” he wrote.
Summers said water sampling in the Susquehanna River shows that upstream states like Pennsylvania and New York are cutting down pollutants flowing to the bay. He said Maryland is not absolved from implementing its own pollution controls for the bay just because the northern states control large portions of the watershed.
He said the model takes into account large periodic storms like Lee that cause sediment to be released into the bay, including from behind the Conowingo.
Summers said Maryland and its counties receive more direct benefits from the bay than the upstream states and the tributaries are closer and have a more direct effect on it.
“For these reasons, it makes sense for Maryland to be a leader in the Bay restoration effort. Local water quality problems in Maryland, which are independent of the Susquehanna River loads, demand our action,” Summers wrote.