March 9, 2023
Arundel Rivers Legislative Update
We are officially halfway through the 2023 Legislative Session! Arundel Rivers Federation has weighed in on about 30 pieces of legislation that will better protect or restore our waterways so far, including our priorities focusing on addressing sediment pollution from construction, conserving our state forests and natural filter habitats, and creating more resilient communities.
Forest Conservation: According to the US EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Program, an acre of sprawling, suburban roadways and lawns contributes seven times more nitrogen and 30 times more sediment to nearby streams than an acre of forest. The state’s Forest Conservation Act, passed in 1991, introduced a minimum floor for mitigation when forests are cleared for development. But these standards are not equipped to address today’s challenges to climate and clean water. SB526/HB723 will update forest goals and definitions, protect and conserve more forest land and tree canopy, and give local governments significantly greater flexibility to pursue solutions that meet local needs and advance equity.
Addressing Sediment from Construction Sites: Sediment runoff from construction sites can be 1,000 to 2,000 times greater than runoff from forested lands. Even just a short burst of rain can contribute more sediment to streams than would be deposited naturally over several decades. These quick bursts of mud-filled water can destroy a stream and aquatic ecosystem. The cost to repair the damaged streams or dredge the sediment-filled creeks is currently passed along to taxpayers. At a time when Maryland is seeking to achieve its 2025 Chesapeake Bay restoration goals, we must act to protect our most vulnerable waterways from construction-related pollution. SB471/HB607 will ensure that construction sites, especially those in sensitive and vulnerable areas such as the Critical Area, have the most up-to-date environmental protections in place to protect downstream water quality.
Climate-Ready Floodplain Act: There is no denying that we are facing rising sea levels, more frequent coastal flooding, and intensified and increased precipitation – highlighting the need to better prepare for the future of development and planning in our state. HB 1209 would require the State to update floodplain maps with the latest flood data so that our communities are prepared for the storms of today and tomorrow. Further, it would require the State to update the State Model Floodplain Ordinance with the latest and greatest floodplain management techniques to ensure that structures built or rebuilt in areas at risk of flooding are designed in such a way to eliminate or minimize flood damage. These new maps and Model Floodplain Ordinance will substantially improve each community’s flood-preparedness.
Living Shorelines and Pollinator Habitat: Arundel Rivers has weighed in on a number of legislative bills that support the installation of living shorelines and the importance of native plants and pollinator habitats. SB417/HB602 will create a funding source for homeowners interested in converting armored shoreline (such as bulkhead or riprap) into living shorelines, which provide better habitat, improve water quality, and make our shorelines more resilient. Arundel Rivers specifically advocated for an amendment to these bills that would also create funding for emergency repairs to convert failed armored shorelines due to natural disasters to living shorelines. Additionally, Arundel Rivers provided supportive testimony for bills relating to creating a Native Plants Program in the state, maintaining pollinator habitat in public right-of-ways and along state highways, and in conserving 40% of Maryland’s land through the Maryland the Beautiful Act (SB470/HB631).
While the bills mentioned above were priorities for Arundel Rivers this session, we have weighed in on many more that focused on septic systems, oysters and fisheries, PFA chemicals, stream restoration, environmental monitoring, environmental justice and equity, wastewater management, and more. Stay tuned for a complete review of what passed or failed during session and how it might impact our local waterways once session wraps up in April!