New regulation could affect farmers

February 01, 1998|By STEVEN T. DENNIS

New regulation could affect farmers

The Antietam Creek is one of 15 streams and rivers statewide listed as a priority for new regulations that would limit the pollutant discharges of businesses, treatment plants and farmers.

Under the regulations mandated by the federal Clean Water Act, a Total Maximum Daily Load or TMDL would be set for each stream listed as having a water quality problem.

Farmers, businesses and sewage treatment plants would be told how much of a particular pollutant, such as nitrogen, sediment or phosphorus, they could discharge into the stream.


If they are dumping too many pollutants into the stream, the state could force treatment plants to upgrade and farmers to change how they farm through "best management practices" and nutrient management plans.

The state plans to hold a public hearing on the regulations in March at Hagerstown Junior College.

What's the problem at the Antietam Creek, you ask? The creek has too much nitrogen, not enough dissolved oxygen and excess suspended sediments, according to the state.

Other county waterways listed as impaired but not on the priority list:

* the Upper Monocacy River, excess nutrients and suspended sediments.

* the Potomac River, nutrients and suspended sediments.

* the Catoctin Creek, nutrients and suspended sediments.

* the Conococheague Creek, nutrients and suspended sediments.

"The state has the authority to basically require that corrective actions be taken," said Jim Jones, who's coordinating the program at the Maryland Department of the Environment.

Jones said the state would use a combination of regulatory and voluntary methods already at its disposal and work with farmers to cut the amount of pollutants from getting into streams with TMDL status.

Jones said grants would be available for some farmers for some control measures including buffering streams with forests. Through the Maryland Agricultural Cost Share Program, a farmer can be paid up to 85 percent of the cost of some environmental controls, such as proper manure storage.

Other changes could require upgrades to stormwater management systems.

Washington County Farm Bureau President Gerald Ditto expressed frustration with the rising tide of regulations on farming.

"As a farmer I'm wondering what I'm doing in the state of Maryland," he said.

Ditto said he hasn't received any precise answers from the state on how TMDLs or Gov. Parris N. Glendening's plans to force nutrient management plans on farmers would be enforced.

Ditto said limits on discharges into a stream could prevent farms and businesses from expanding their operations.

"Food apparently has no priority," he said.

County Extension Agent Don Schwartz said TMDLs would be just another layer of bureaucracy that farmers might have to deal with. Schwartz said the governor's plan to require nutrient management plans for every farm and to require phosphorus balancing would affect farmers more than TMDLs.

Schwartz said that farmers in Washington County already do a good job managing nutrients.

Dennis Stolte, senior director of government relations for the American Farm Bureau, said TMDLs could eventually force farmers to have mandatory buffer strips or use no-till or other pollution control farming techniques.

"We're talking about practices that not only cost a lot of money to install, but they also can affect the profitability of farm operations," Stolte said.

"This one size fits all mentality that we see so often in Washington is the wrong way to handle this situation."

Stolte said farmers have shown they are willing to do work on soil and nutrient conservation, especially in Maryland, which he said leads the nation in conservation practices.

"Why come down on them with a hammer at this point? It's the wrong approach."

One group that literally can't wait for TMDLs is the Sierra Club. The Sierra Club of Maryland sued the EPA in November in an effort to speed up the implementation of TMDLs and the monitoring of streams.

Guy Guzzone, director of the Sierra Club of Maryland, said the EPA has the responsibility for implementing TMDLs if the states don't do it first, and said TMDLs and other programs are needed to protect streams. Guzzone said the state hasn't been adequately monitoring streams for problems, and predicts 300 will be needed statewide.

Guzzone said that similar lawsuits in other states have been settled with a timetable put in place that would implement TMDLs within a five to 10 year period.

The state, meanwhile, hopes to have its priority TMDLs in place by the year 2000.

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