ANNAPOLIS — Chesapeake Bay Foundation Maryland Executive Director Alison Prost came to the Eastern Shore delegation meeting Friday, March 14, to talk about the beginnings of a better dialogue between the environmental community and stakeholders of environmental regulations.

“For better or for worse, we’re often seen as pragmatic by our environmental partners, because we do want to have a dialogue and try to come up with some constructive solutions going forward,” Prost said. “We’re trying to bring solutions to the policies we’re pushing.”

Though Prost said opening a dialogue doesn’t always mean CBF will agree with other stakeholders, at least it’s the beginning of a conversation.

Del. Addie Eckardt, R-37B-Dorchester, said part of the challenge is that the Eastern Shore is a “food basket.”

“Food production is one of our major economic engines, and as long as we produce food, we will produce nitrogen and phosphorus,” Eckardt said. “So it’s how do we balance that and how do we manage the economic impact.”

On Friday, Prost talked about some of the solutions and ways CBF can better collaborate to help bring clean water to Eastern Shore communities.

The cost of doing the kind of work Prost talked about, with people trying to balance budgets, can be very tight, but Prost said CBF is looking for as much state and federal funding as possible to come to Maryland for environmental projects.

Prost talked about the Phosphorus Management Tool, and CBF’s position that it’s an important tool that needs to stay in place.

CBF just applied for a $400,000 grant to try to figure out how the PMT can be implemented at a lower cost.

“We’re working with Maryland Department of Agriculture and farmers across the state to see how mixed-use cover crops can be used in replace of some of the nitrogen or phosphorus that used to be applied,” Prost said.

She said CBF also is looking at options for dairy farmers and their manure transport, and options for organic farmers.

Eckardt said managing the economic impact has been a large concern with some farmers and legislators when it comes to implementing the PMT, which limits the amount of phosphorus a farmer may spread on his field depending on what they score in soil tests and other variables.

Prost said a phase-in approach is something that “logically makes sense,” though there’s some hesitation to phase in the PMT. Also, she said resources need to be in place so the PMT doesn’t cause as much of a jarring economic impact.

“You can’t flip the switch in terms of changing all these practices overnight,” Prost said.

In Queen Anne’s County, Prost said CBF is doing a “trading pilot” to see if there are ways the county can bring its cost down for some of the more expensive things on its to-do list, while still hitting water quality expectations.

“We see that there could be economic benefit, as long you get the same water quality results,” said Prost, who added that the trading pilot is being done in Montgomery County, too. “It’s looking like, right now, it’s going to yield maybe a 30 percent reduction in the cost on part of the program.”

Talbot County is home to a roadside ditch pilot project, in which instead of mowing the grass that can grow tall in ditches, water-filtering plants will be grown in the ditches to act as a wetland buffer and turn ditches into a natural filters.

“What’s great about it, it’s a twofer, because if you place them correctly, you can capture the road runoff as well as some of the agricultural runoff,” Prost said. “So the agriculture sectors obligations are going down, as well as the local government’s obligation.”

Prost said there are formulas that can identify exactly which roadside ditch this project would be good for, but once the design work is done, it’s a low-tech project volunteers can do to turn ditches into natural filters.

Del. Steve Arentz, R-36-Queen Anne’s, said when this approach was tried previously in Queen Anne’s County, some people complained about the overgrown plants in the ditches.

“If you did a detailed look at it, you could probably find some areas in the county where you wouldn’t bother people as much,” Arentz said.

Also, Arentz said it saved Queen Anne’s County some money from not mowing the ditches.

“We really do want to be a partner. We really do want to try to think outside the box and come up with other ideas, even if we may take a hit for it along the way,” Prost said. “We have our eye on the water quality result, and we are not confined in terms of how to get there. I hope we can continue to have a dialogue on how to make the Eastern Shore thrive economically as well as environmentally.”

Follow me on Twitter @jboll_stardem.

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