Proposal Would Shrink Spray Buffers

SNOW HILL – Worcester County’s Planning Commission would like to see reduced buffers around spray irrigation land, and voted unanimously last week to recommend the change to the Worcester County Commissioners.

Smaller buffers around spray irrigation sites would free up more land to handle treated wastewater effluent, Development Review and Permitting head Ed Tudor said at the March 6 Planning Commission meeting.

“If we’re serious about spray irrigation, we need to do something about our setbacks. We’re losing a lot of area,” Tudor said.

The change would only apply to government wastewater treatment with a high level of effluent treatment. The text amendment calls for buffers to be realigned with Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) regulations. MDE permits layout buffer requirements for each facility, and call for narrower buffers than the county.

“To move these buffers down is a wise thing,” Planning Commission member Jeannie Lynch said.

More spray land will become available if the county commissioners approve the text amendment. If passed, the new buffer regulations would also apply to municipalities.

Berlin, the only town in Worcester County to use spray irrigation currently, must add spray land to accommodate a planned expansion of the town wastewater treatment system. Town staff has been searching for more spray land for some time, but has not been successful.

“It would help them immensely,” Tudor said, once the improved plant is in use.

The increase in spray land will also benefit aquifer recharge, Tudor said. Although the Eastern Shore appears to sit over large quantities of water, water levels in some observation wells are dropping, according to Tudor.

“The idea was, we’d better start putting something back on the land if we’re going to recharge,” Tudor said. “There are other reasons than just disposing of wastewater to put it on the land.”

Tudor foresees even smaller buffers in the county’s future, citing current practice in Orlando, Fla., where highly treated wastewater is used to water all public land, including median strips. The effluent in that case is very highly treated, with the treated effluent passing through a water treatment plant at the end of the process.

“It’s everywhere,” Tudor said. “Down there they spray literally up to the sidewalks.”