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March 20, 2024

March 2024 Legislative Update

Happy Crossover Week!  We are officially more than halfway through the 446th Session of the Maryland General Assembly. 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 expanding opportunities for impactful environmental restoration, addressing non-point sources of nitrogen pollution, and ensuring our wetlands and streams are adequately protected from pollution threats. 

Environmental Restoration: The Comprehensive Evaluation of System Response (CESR) report, released in 2023 is a summation of a three-year investigation into the 40-year effort to reduce nutrient loads to the Chesapeake Bay. We are currently not on track to meet our water quality goals by 2025 and we therefore need to rethink our strategies and implementation of restoration efforts. The CESR report identified that more attention and effort is needed in addressing restoration implementation gaps by focusing efforts at the subwatershed and tributary level. Arundel Rivers provided support for the Whole Watershed Act (HB1165/SB969), which takes an innovative and targeted approach towards achieving our water quality goals in Maryland watersheds. The bill includes new guardrails for environmental restoration implementation and creates a new funding program to be used for 5 pilot watersheds in the state for targeted environmental restoration. The Whole Watershed Act has been heard in both the House and the Senate and successfully made the crossover deadline.  

Non-point Source Pollution Efforts: Another key takeaway from the CESR report is the need to focus more on non-point sources of pollution in our watershed – aka pollution that isn’t coming from a permitted point source such as a discharge pipe. In the South, West, and Rhode, these non-point sources include stormwater runoff, runoff from agricultural land in South County, and septic systems. A conventional septic system can contribute 23 pounds of nitrogen per year to groundwater – considerably more than wastewater treatment plants that have been upgraded to have enhanced nutrient reductions. In fact, pollution from septic systems now exceeds nitrogen pollution from our wastewater treatment plants in 17 counties and 16% of Anne Arundel County’s nitrogen pollution comes from septic systems alone. Arundel Rivers advocated for HB1320, which increased prioritization and funding for septic system upgrades or sewer hook ups where appropriate. While this bill is not expected to pass this year, the hearing was a great platform for education of the issue and set the stage well for further discussions with legislators and MD Department of the Environment to address these issues in the future. 

Wetland and Stream Protection:  Wetlands and smaller streams store stormwater and filter out pollution, protecting our communities from flooding and poor water quality. These aquatic ecosystems are also among the most diverse habitats across the state, providing valuable niches of biodiversity across an increasingly urban landscape. Arundel Rivers and our communities are often on the front lines, monitoring these waterways and activities that threaten them. These communities should have the right to carry their findings forward in a courtroom to enforce existing law. House Bill 1101 gives residents and communities harmed by illegal water pollution the ability to enforce state law through the courts – a right that unfortunately was stripped away when the U.S. Supreme Court removed federal, Clean Water Act protections for many of our streams and wetlands. HB1101 was passed out of the House and now heads to the Senate. 

While the bills mentioned above were priorities for Arundel Rivers this session, we have weighed in on many more that focused on aquatic habitats such as underwater grasses and fisheries, PFA chemicals, environmental justice and equity, pollinator and native habitats, 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!