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By JESSICA WILDE
ANNAPOLIS -- The Chesapeake Bay Foundation will focus its efforts this year on improving urban and suburban stormwater runoff, which is the one environmental indicator that got worse in the bay in 2012, according to the annual State of the Bay Report.
As population increases, natural filters such as forested buffers are turning into hard surfaces, and more litter, toxics and sediment from roads are ending up in waterways, said Alison Prost, the foundation’s executive director for Maryland, in a House Environmental Matters Committee hearing Wednesday.
“Controlling the amount of runoff, the speed of runoff and what is in that runoff is very important,” Prost said.
While new development is built to minimize runoff, that of previous years was not, and will have to be improved.
“There is no one solution to the stormwater issue,” she said, and changes need to be cost-effective.
Prost is hopeful that Gov. Martin O’Malley’s budget, released Wednesday, will help the foundation deal with stormwater runoff this year.
“Hopefully, the governor’s budget, from what I’ve seen so far, has significant dollars in it for on-the-ground projects at the state and local level,” she said.
The budget includes a $1.9 million increase in the Maryland Department of the Environment’s funds for water permitting, inspection and enforcement activities.
Stormwater runoff is not the only issue affecting the bay, but it is the only indicator that has gotten worse. Levels of phosphorus and dissolved oxygen, as well as other factors, have improved, while nitrogen levels, water clarity, toxics, forested buffers and wetlands have stayed the same.
“The concern is that the load from the urban and suburban sector, and stormwater’s part of that, is the one that’s increasing,” Prost said.
And population growth will only make it more difficult.
“For every existing source we’re reducing, we have to worry about the impacts of population growth,” Prost said.
The executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, Ann Swanson, said the burden on local government is enormous.
“It’s the septics and the stormwater that’s really falling at that local government level,” Swanson said. “It’s also the most expensive.”
The Chesapeake Bay’s health is also largely affected by nitrogen, phosphorous and sediment levels, which have been reduced by 50 percent of the foundation’s goal. They have twelve years to reduce the levels by the next 50 percent, Prost said.
The State of the Bay Report is released annually, and measures the bay’s health, evaluating oysters, shad, crabs, rockfish, underwater grasses, wetlands, forested buffers, resource lands, toxics, water clarity, dissolved oxygen, and phosphorus and nitrogen pollution.