Friday 23 February 2018

No more delay: Protect our communities from manure pollution

The Maryland Department of Agriculture and Governor O'Malley’s administration bowed to pressure from the agriculture lobby and chose delay over protecting our families and communities from the harmful pollution that is choking our waterways. On Friday, November 15, the administration withdrew its proposed regulations to implement the new Maryland Phosphorus Management Tool, designed to reduce phosphorus pollution caused by excessive application of manure. This marks the third delay in the implementation of these critical regulations, while the problems from phosphorus pollution in our waterways continue to grow.

Phosphorus pollution causes algae blooms that kill underwater grasses, threaten human health, harm aquatic life like blue crabs, oysters and fish, and create an enormous “dead zone” in the Bay. Runoff from manure may also include harmful bacteria and dangerous pharmaceuticals.

The agriculture industry keeps pushing for further delays, which will ultimately make meeting their state and federal requirements to reduce pollution more difficult and more expensive. Many Maryland farm fields with a history of manure (and biosludge) application have phosphorus levels that far exceed what is needed for successful crop growth. Fields with high phosphorus levels can pollute nearby waterways and the Chesapeake Bay. Delaying implementation of this tool will result in excessive levels of phosphorus continuing to be applied to the fields and continuing to pollute nearby streams and waterways. The longer we wait to implement the tool – the more polluted the fields and streams will be.

Marylanders depend on clean water for the health of their families and the health of our overall economy. Waterkeepers Chesapeake supports the timely implementation of the Phosphorus Management Tool, which the state has committed to doing in its Watershed Implementation Plan. We have joined other organizations from the Maryland Clean Agriculture Coalition in calling for Governor O’Malley and legislative leaders to honor their previous commitments. In a letter sent on behalf of these groups on November 22, we write:

According to BayStat, agriculture is the single largest source of pollution to the Bay with more than half of the phosphorus pollution in Maryland coming from farms. How much more delay will occur before we tackle the ongoing problem of dumping excess manure on farm fields that leak phosphorus pollution into our waters?

The Phosphorus Management Tool offers a valuable method to help keep harmful pollution from being applied to the land, entering our streams and ultimately hurting our communities.


Waterkeepers Chesapeake, a coalition of 19 independent local organizations, expressed serious concerns today that the new Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement fails to put enough specific measures in place to assure meaningful improvement to the Bay and our rivers. Representatives from Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, Delaware, West Virginia and Washington, D.C. will sign the new agreement today.

The first Chesapeake Bay Agreement established the numeric goals to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in the Bay ecosystem and was signed in 1987 by the governors of Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania and the mayor of Washington, D.C. Several updated agreements have been adopted since then. According to the Chesapeake Bay Program, today’s new Agreement establishes “a set of goals and outcomes for the restoration of the Bay, its tributaries and the lands that surround them.”

In response to the draft Agreement, Waterkeepers Chesapeake says the Agreement now includes some laudable new goals, such as reducing toxic contaminants, and addressing environmental justice and climate change. However, the Agreement allows the jurisdictions to opt out of these goals, and, in fact, allows them to opt out of any of the goals.  The Agreement also provides no accountability for jurisdictions that fail to meet the goals they do choose to adopt. Since the draft Agreement was introduced, citizens submitted thousands of public comments, many specifically asking for the jurisdictions to be held accountable for implementing these goals. 

“Each and every jurisdiction in the Bay has to do their share,” said Betsy Nicholas, executive director of Waterkeepers Chesapeake. “We need a Bay Agreement with enforceable terms, not one that provides loopholes.”

“This new Bay Agreement should be a contract with all of us who live in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed,” said Michael Helfrich, the Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper based in York, Penn. “Without a commitment to goals before signing, this is by definition neither a contract nor an agreement.”

The Waterkeepers also expressed disappointment in the lack of specifics regarding how the signatories will achieve the goals in the Agreement. 

“The Bay States have included some important principles in the Agreement, but how will we achieve these goals on toxic contaminants, climate change and environmental justice?” asked David Flores, Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper.  “For this agreement to work, states must have concrete and transparent paths to reduce pollution and protect water quality and public health.”

Waterkeepers in the Chesapeake Bay area vowed to continue their role as watchdogs in the Bay cleanup effort, using their expertise to hold polluters accountable and enforce environmental laws.

“While we are disappointed that the Bay Agreement does not provide the levels of accountability and enforcement we feel are necessary, Waterkeepers will continue doing what we do best – fighting pollution to protect our waterways and our communities,” said Jamie Brunkow, the Lower James Riverkeeper, based in Richmond, Virginia.

Waterkeeper organizations are grassroots groups that conduct water quality monitoring, implement restoration projects, use citizen enforcement tools and bring legal action to fight for clean water.

TAKE ACTION: Sign the Citizens Bay Agreement

Betsy Nicholas, Executive Director of Waterkeepers Chesapeake issued this statement about the CSX train derailment and crude oil spill and explosion on the James River in Lynchburg, Virginia on April 30, 2014:

“Our thoughts are with the residents of Lynchburg and first responders as they deal with explosion and toxic oil spill. Thankfully no one was injured.

Upper James Riverkeeper Pat Calvert has an office about 150 yards from the crash site. He and Lower James Riverkeeper Jamie Brunkow responded immediately and are now assisted by staff from Waterkeeper Alliance, Shenandoah Riverkeeper and other local Waterkeepers. They will monitor the impact on the river and assist in the clean up and future mitigation of this toxic oil spill.osion and toxic oil spill. Thankfully no one was injured.

This train derailment in downtown Lynchburg is a stark reminder that we need a national discussion about the safety and regulatory oversight of the transportation of hazardous materials through populated areas and sensitive environmental areas, especially along rivers that supply drinking water to cities such as Richmond.

We agree with Pat Calvert, Upper James Riverkeeper, who wants to see a larger discussion on what is appropriate for us to be transporting by rail, especially along our rivers. The amount of crude oil being transported by rail has grown exponentially due to the fracking boom. The federal rule making and oversight has not kept up. 

In addition to the Lynchburg derailment, yesterday our region experienced a coal train derailment near Bowie, Maryland, and a sink hole that compromised CSX train tracks near Baltimore. These incidents along with the other train explosions involving crude oil in the U.S. and Canada over the past year are more than enough of a wake up call. We need a true assessment of the risks and costs of our reliance on dirty fossil fuels and real protections for our waterways.”

Read James River Association’s statement here:



Oil tanker cars in James River, May 1, 2014