For many years, the Chesapeake Bay and all of the life it supports have been the focus of many organizations. Political administrations – from federal to state and local – have championed policies designed to improve the health of the Bay. A multitude of reasons underlie this deserved attention. Chief among them is protection of the water resources the Bay provides; the food it yields; and the recreational opportunities it creates. Each of these organizations and administrations has recognized the bay’s fragile nature -- offering new ideas, strategies, programs, and laws in an effort to protect and restore this precious natural resource.
The Chesapeake Bay Watershed covers almost the entire land area of Maryland and portions of Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York and West Virginia. It is Maryland’s largest and greatest water resource; its health is directly tied to land management practices throughout the watershed. In recent years, sprawling land development patterns have visited nearly irreparable damage upon this great estuary and those who depend on it for their livelihood.
While the state of Maryland may not be the largest land area in the group of bay watershed states, Maryland does have the lion’s share of shoreline and thus the most direct impact on water quality. Our actions on the land, the wastewaters we discharge to the streams, rivers and the Bay permanently affect this fragile water resource.
An important new law passed in 2006, known as House Bill (HB) 1141, directly addresses land use, development and water resources, including water quality – one of the focal points of the legislation. HB 1141 requires that local comprehensive plans contain a water resources element. The water resources element (WRE) will address the relationship of planned growth to the area’s water resources. The required water resources element is designed to address both the wastewater that is generated by our consumption habits and our invaluable, life-sustaining drinking water supply.
State Geology and Water Sources
While many Marylanders rely on surface water from reservoirs and rivers, others rely upon the underground streams, or aquifers, for their water source. These aquifers differ from location to location. But they all share a common feature: there are limits on how much water each can safely yield. The geological makeup of Maryland’s landscape can be divided into two very different regions and each region provides different quantities of source water from each underground resource. These differences make it very difficult to know when too much demand has been put on it (possibly causing it to run dry). It is also difficult to determine when contaminations from outside sources may have affected water quality. These two factors of quantity and quality are key thresholds that development must calculate and account for as recent climatic events and over-development have left many residents with water shortages or non-potable water.
This is unacceptable as public health, and the overall welfare of citizens is primarily and inextricably linked to its water resources. This is the other focal point to the water resources element.
This water resources element Model and Guideline (WREMG) document serves to help local governments implement the provisions of HB 1141 by October 2009 and provide local officials with the information needed to fully comply with the terms of this new state planning law. The WREMG will assure that the comprehensive plan fully integrates water resources issues and potential solutions into its overall planning mission.
This document provides an outline as to how water supplies, wastewater effluents and stormwater runoff will be managed to support planned growth provided that existing and future water resources (and any limitations on those resources) are identified through this process. The limitations will include source water supply issues and the wastewater discharge assimilative capacity thresholds of the watersheds. Identifying these limitations (or opportunities) early in the planning process will ensure that comprehensive plans are realistic and environmentally sustainable. The water resources element will be instrumental in providing a sound foundation to implement Smart Growth throughout the state.
In Section I, the WREMG provides the reader with the statutory language of HB 1141 and explains the responsibilities of the state agencies.
Section II provides the methods and steps necessary to complete the comprehensive plan’s land use analyses based on its population, housing and employment projections, and the water resource demands those projections might create.
Section III outlines the many ways that the water resources element is linked to the various planning documents that set land use policy and implement development plans. The information provides guidance to policies that will promote conservation, preservation and encourage management practices that properly align projected growth with the planned area’s water resources.
Sections IV and V focus on drinking water and wastewater assessment specifics. These sections provide more specific methods and data analysis and present possible solutions or alternatives to addressing the particular water resource limitations and/or development thresholds discovered in the planning process.
Section VI addresses the stormwater and relational land surface changes associated with development and land use impacts as they affect nutrient loading from various non-point sources. As in the previous sections, details are provided on measurement methods and alternatives to handle the future impacts through policy and practice.
A model water resources element follows the Guidelines presented as Part I. This example is of a fictitious county and its towns and how the WRE might look considering the many different boundaries that have to be reviewed, i.e., political, watershed, and public service area. While the initial effort in the implementation of HB 1141 is to inventory the water supply and calculate nutrient loading impacts from various land use patterns and discharge sources, there is a generality to be allowed until better and more complete information is collected in the years ahead.
It is the goal of the Departments of Planning, the Environment and Natural Resources to provide technical assistance as needed. This entire effort – to include a water resources element in each comprehensive plan – will serve as another crucial plank in the platform to reach the restoration goals of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. By balancing existing land use impacts and projected land use changes with the assurance of adequate water supplies and wastewater handling-capacity, Maryland can set the example for other states and jurisdictions in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
In this effort to protect the Bay, by growing smarter and through better water resources planning, it is clear that certain solutions and challenges await us. Yet we know enough now to begin to better prepare for the challenges we are sure to encounter. New and bigger challenges demand better tools to meet and overcome them. Developing a water resources element offers a powerful new tool in Maryland’s next step – taken together – to protect and restore our great Chesapeake Bay.