Limiting Runoff A Must For Improved Bay Water Quality

SNOW HILL – With a
slight improvement seen in the Maryland Coastal Bays on the second annual
coastal bays report card, bay protectors say that there are ways to improve the
bays and reach a better grade.

While the coastal bays
are holding on, Maryland Coastal Bays Program (MCBP) Director Dave Wilson said
this week work needs to be done to reduce the flow of excess nutrients and
toxins into the coastal bays.

A change that could make
a major difference to the coastal bays’ health is the transition from water
discharge by wastewater treatment plants to spray irrigation, or land
application, of treated effluent.

Both the Tyson and
Perdue chicken plants in the northern part of the county have been taken
offline as point sources in recent years, with the Berlin wastewater treatment
plant on its way to moving from some water discharge to spray irrigation

“If you continue to do
that, you’re going to continue to see improvements in water quality,” said

The failing Mystic
Harbor wastewater plant will be replaced, which will reduce the plant’s
nutrient burden on the bays, Wilson said.

Getting septic systems
offline is also an improvement, Wilson said, although it is not realistic to
connect everyone in the county to a sewer system.

Agriculture also has a
huge impact on the health of the coastal bays, Wilson said, so water in
agricultural ditches that carries fertilizer run-off needs to be dealt with,
perhaps through constructed wetlands, which will absorb much of the nutrients.

Best Management
Practices (BMPs) like forested and planted buffers around agricultural ditches
also reduce nutrients.

Other BMPs that are not
major undertakings, like planting trees and shrubs instead of grass, still make
a difference, Wilson said.

Stakeholders need to use
more BMPs in the coastal bays watersheds, said Wilson, to make sure water
quality improves.

The southern bays are
less vulnerable to point sources, specific sources of excess nutrients such as
sewer plants, because there are so few in the area. However, the largely
agricultural watersheds could implement more agricultural BMPs, Wilson said.

The southern bays area
is also impacted by septic systems, which release far more nutrients like
nitrogen and phosphorous into the coastal bays than treated effluent from a
wastewater plant.

“In the southern coastal
bays, it’s really study that’s required,” said Wilson.

The southern bays face a
lot of nutrient impacts coming out of the Virginia side of the peninsula,
Wilson pointed out. Chincoteague Island has no public sewer with all property
on septic.

An overlooked pollution
source, like atmospheric deposition, is an ongoing issue throughout the coastal
bays, with pollutants from car exhaust, coal plants, fossil fuel burning and
other sources finding their way to the coastal bays through the air.

Some improvements can
take time to show up, like the reduction of nutrients from 100 septic system
upgrades made over the last few years that bring septic systems up to the
enhanced nutrient removal standard. Those changes most likely did not affect
the recent report card.

“It was probably a
little late. It might well show up next year,” said Wilson.

Commissioner Judy Boggs,
during a report Wilson gave to the Worcester County Commissioners Tuesday, said
she was impatient to see improvements in the coastal bays after major upgrades
to the Ocean Pines wastewater treatment plant several years ago.

“I expect to see faster
improvements,” said Boggs.

Water systems take time
to recover from abuse, Wilson said.