The outbreak of toxins from Pfiesteria-like organisms presented a challenge to Maryland. This Summer, it was necessary to close 3 rivers in order to protect Marylanders from the harmful human health impact associated with exposure to Pfiesteria's toxins. These outbreaks reminded all of us of the importance of water quality. It highlighted the relationship between our activities on the land, the health of our natural resources and the health of our citizens.

Governor Glendening's legislative package and budget contain many initiatives to improve water quality. They are designed to prepare the State for a recurrence of the events of last Summer as well as lessen the possibility of similar outbreaks in the future. In large part, these initiatives are based on the recommendations of the Governor's Blue Ribbon Citizens Pfiesteria Action Commission, which was chaired by former Governor Harry Hughes.

Preparing Maryland for a Possible Recurrence of Pfiesteria

Human Health
Maryland's efforts to study the impact of Pfiesteria's toxins on humans placed the State as a national leader on this issue. Last Summer, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene established a surveillance system to gather information about human illnesses that may be related to these toxins. The Department will continue that surveillance system and maintain a central registry of all possible and confirmed cases of clinical manifestations of toxicity from Pfiesteria. Information collected in the registry will be used to initiate appropriate epidemiological studies. The Department will also enhance its outreach efforts to physicians to provide information about the symptoms of exposure to Pfiesteria's toxins in order to ensure that possible cases are properly treated and reported.

The Department will perform these functions within existing resources and will coordinate its work with the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins University as necessary. The Department will also continue its efforts to work with the Centers for Disease Control's ongoing projects pertaining to Pfiesteria- like organisms and harmful algal blooms.

Seafood Marketing
Maryland's seafood industry was negatively impacted by the perception that it was unsafe to eat fish from Maryland waters. Governor Glendening authorized the expenditure of $500,000 in FY98 for a marketing effort to restore consumer confidence in the State's seafood. This effort proved to be a tremendous success. The Governor's FY99 budget will include $500,000 to continue this effort. In both FY 2000 and FY 2001, the Governor intends to provide $250,000 for this purpose.

Rapid Response Teams
The State's toll-free hotline to inform the State about possible Pfiesteria outbreaks worked well. It allowed the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to respond quickly to potential problems. The Governor's budget contains $1 million and several positions to continue both the hotline and the Department's rapid response teams. These teams go to the site of possible fish health problem, and sample fish, sediment and water quality to determine if the fish health problems pose a risk to human health. Their sampling information provides the State with the data needed to comply with the protocol for closing and opening rivers.

Environmental Monitoring
The Governor's FY99 budget includes $630,000 and 6 positions to allow the Department of the Environment to evaluate the magnitude of various sources of environmental pollution in affected watersheds. MDE will monitor nutrient and toxic pollution from regulated point sources and nonpoint sources including agricultural, urban and residential areas.

Pfiesteria-like organisms and other harmful algal blooms are a problem across the country. The federal government has appropriated approximately $13 million to conduct research on harmful algal blooms. A Request for Proposal for $4 million of the federal funds for biological and environmental research on Pfiesteria has already been released the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceans and Atmospheric Administration.

The Governor supports the role of the federal government as coordinator of research on harmful algal blooms. The Governor's budget will contain a one-time appropriation of $800,000 (budgeted in the Department of the Environment) to provide our Universities and research institutions with important seed money to assist in their competing for these federal research grants.

Water Quality Initiatives

The best available scientific evidence indicates that elevated nutrient levels contribute to the development of Pfiesteria, Pfiesteria-like organisms and other harmful algal blooms. More importantly, we have long been aware that nutrients are, in general, detrimental to water quality. The Governor's legislative package and budget address these problems in many ways.

The Governor's package acknowledges that all of us contribute to nutrient loading in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. The Hughes Commission recommended a multi-source approach to solving this problem. The Governor will propose legislation, appropriate money and refocus agency resources to reduce the amount of nutrients that end up in our waters.

The Governor will establish an Oversight Committee, as recommended by the Hughes Commission. This group will oversee the development of alternative uses of manure; oversee the implementation of appropriate nutrient management programs and best management practices; work with interested groups and State agencies and; prepare semi-annual reports on their progress.

Sewage Treatment Plant Upgrades
Biological Nutrient Removal (BNR) cost-sharing is an essential element of the State and local approach to achieve the Chesapeake Bay 40% Reduction Goal of reducing nitrogen from point sources. The Governor's 5-year capital budget program will be adjusted to implement Biological Nutrient Removal upgrades at all 14 targeted sewage treatment plants on the Eastern Shore within 3 years and all remaining eligible sewage treatment plants Statewide within 5 years.

In order to complete the necessary upgrades on the Eastern Shore, the Governor added additional funds to the FY99 capital budget. A total of $6.9 million will be spent this year to upgrade sewage treatment plants on the Eastern Shore.

Nutrients form Non-Point, Non-Agricultural Sources
Lawn fertilizer.
The Administration will develop and coordinate an educational campaign to inform homeowners of the proper method of applying fertilizer in order to minimize runoff. Too often, homeowners over apply fertilizer or apply fertilizer improperly. This can result in nutrient runoff which finds its way to our waterways. The Governor's legislative package will also require all nutrient applicators to be certified. Further, it will permit the application of fertilizers on large tracts of land, such as golf courses, and State-owned land only in accordance with the nutrient needs of the turf.

Septic systems.
It has been estimated that 80% of nitrogen from septic system effluent reaches groundwater and that as much as 6% of the total nitrogen entering our surface waterways originates from septic systems. Current septic system regulations focus on bacteria, not nitrogen runoff. The Governor has instructed the Department of the Environment to work with local governments to develop best management practices for new septic systems in order to achieve nitrogen reductions.

Agricultural Sources
Timing. The Governor's legislative package includes the recommendation of the Hughes Commission that all farmers be enrolled in phosphorus-based nutrient management plans by 2000 and that these plans be fully and demonstrably implemented, subject to penalties, by 2002. These plans will be collected in a central repository by the Department of Agriculture. The Governor's FY99 budget includes 11 Evaluation Teams consisting of MDE and MDA employees to evaluate the nutrient reduction practices on each farm. The goal is to evaluate each farm once every 3 years.

Assistance to farmers. Farmers will need assistance to develop and implement these plans to achieve nutrient reduction. The Governor's budget contains an additional $2.8 million and 20 positions to provide educational and technical assistance through the Department of Agriculture, local Soil Conservation Districts and the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension Service. For 3 years, the budget will contain $1.5 million a year to provide cover crop assistance on the Eastern Shore, the region of the State with the most concentrated agricultural operations and where we experienced a problem with toxic Pfiesteria.

This year's budget also includes $5.9 million in the MACS cost-share fund to help farmers construct manure storage sheds and dead bird composters. Consistent with the recommendations of the Hughes Commission, MACS eligibility will be expanded to farmers who use manure but do not grow animals. A newly created Linked Deposit Program will assist farmers in rapidly securing low-interest loans for their portion of cost-share projects.

Transitional tax credit. Farmers who currently apply manure to fields that are high in phosphorus will most likely incur an additional cost for fertilizer if the phosphorus-based nutrient management plan reveals that they can no longer spread manure. The Governor's bill will contain a transitional tax credit to help defray some of those costs. Each farmer will be eligible to receive the credit for 3 years.

Manure disposal assistance. Farmers who apply animal manure to their land will also need assistance to properly dispose of manure. The Governor's legislative package establishes an Animal Waste Technology Fund. The Fund will contain $1 million a year for 3 years and will be used to help the private sector develop and market technologies for alternative uses of animal manure.

Use of the phytase enzyme. Finally, the Governor's bill will require the use of the phytase enzyme, which reduces the amount of phosphorus in chicken manure, in all chicken feed by January 1, 2000. The budget includes $350,000 to cost-share in the capital cost of preparing feed mills to use the enzyme.

Penalty provisions. As is the current practice, the Departments of Agriculture and the Environment will work with farmers to achieve compliance with nutrient management plans. The Governor's bill includes several penalties that can be used if a farm is noncompliant. Possible sanctions are civil penalties, the recovery of MACS cost-share expenditures and a limit on the expansion of the farm operations of a noncompliant farm.

Research projects. The Governor's budget includes $800,000 for 3 years to conduct research projects designed to reduce nutrient loading in the Bay and its tributaries. As the Hughes Commission noted, in several areas Maryland cannot wait for national research to be completed. It is anticipated that immediate research will be needed on issues such as alternative uses of manure, animal nutrition and agronomic practices. This research funding is budgeted in the Department of the Environment and will be distributed to Maryland Universities and research institutions.

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Copyright, January 1998

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