Ideas Floated For Assawoman Restoration Plan

SHOWELL – Although the Assawoman Bay watershed has not yet been assigned a pollution limit, county planners are hard at work on a watershed restoration action plan (WRAP).

At a public meeting this week, Worcester County planners reviewed 13 Best Management Practices (BMPs) intended to reduce nutrient loading on the bay.

“Our analysis included a whole lot of BMPs,” said Worcester County planner Keota Silaphone. “We’re doing a whole laundry list of stuff for the entire watershed.”

If all 13 practices were implemented, and continued every year for 10 years, the total cost could reach $6.4 million. That figure, Silaphone said, is not just for start-up costs or for a single year of projects.

Silaphone emphasized that the report is in progress. “Our elected officials have not reviewed this plan nor have they approved it,” she said. “It’s a very, very draft plan.”

Once approved, the entire plan would be revisited regularly to make adjustments.

“We don’t have an approved TMDL (total maximum daily load), that is, a pollution allowance from the state,” Silaphone said.

The TMDL assignment will almost certainly require changes to the WRAP.

Some of the BMPs have already been implemented in this watershed, Silaphone said, and the approach to this plan was to identify what more can be done. At the moment, the county is assuming the need to reduce nitrogen levels in Assawoman Bay by 24,000 pounds a year, but that number could be much greater, she said.

Five BMPs target agricultural nutrient run-off. The plan calls for another 977 acres of cover crops in the watershed, as its first BMP.

The second BMP would restore or create 27 acres of wetlands on farmland bordering the bay’s headwaters and redirect water through offline wetlands to allow nutrients and sediments to be filtered out before rejoining drainage ditches.

Trees would be planted on 15 acres of critical resource area or easily eroded soil under the third BMP, which is surprisingly controversial.

“That recommendation is a sensitive issue because farmers don’t like trees on farmland,” Silaphone said.

There is a state program that already pays farmers to plant trees.

“Once you plant trees, you’re never going to take it back out for agriculture,” County Commissioner Virgil Shockley, a farmer, explained at the meeting. “When you plant that tree, there’s no more ag land.”

Shockley recalled that clearing forestland years ago cost more than buying farmland. “Trees are terrible if you have to clear it out,” he said.

The fourth BMP would monitor farmers for compliance with the required nutrient management plan. Currently, no one inspects farms for compliance. 

BMP five would install baffles in drainage ditches to hold back or slow down stormwater to allow sediments and nutrients to settle out of it. This practice could be used to form the wetlands called for under BMP two, Silaphone suggested.

Urban and open urban areas also have a part to play. BMP six would retain 340 acres of existing infiltration practices, like swales, which store water as it filters into the ground, and add 15 more.

“I think we can do better than 15 acres. I think that’s kind of low,” said Dave Blazer, director of the Maryland Coastal Bays Program, at the meeting.

Nutrient management practices for urban and suburban areas fall under BMP seven.

MCBP has a conservation management plan with a lot of outreach information available, said Gail Blazer, Ocean City Environmental Engineer. “People would do the right thing if they know what it is,” she said.

The eighth BMP would plant trees on 40 acres of open and suburban land to increase the tree canopy.

Septic systems make a big contribution to nutrient pollution in the local waters, and the watershed plan calls for upgrading 39 existing septic tanks to reduce nutrients released into the environment as the ninth BMP.

The 10th BMP would require regular pumping and maintenance of septic systems. “The theory is people should be required to take care of their systems,” said Silaphone.

Atmospheric deposition is more difficult to get a handle on, with some pollution circulated through the atmosphere from mid-Western coal plants to the Eastern Shore, where it ends up in the water.

The 11th and 12th BMPs, lowering automobile emissions, and working with Sussex County, Del., to lower car and other sources, will require planning changes on a larger scale to provide alternatives to cars like bike lanes and sidewalks.

The last BMP, to plant trees around chicken houses, is already being promoted by Perdue Farms.

County staff will next meet with other experts and their Sussex County counterparts to discuss technical aspects of the watershed plan, before putting a final draft together.