ALONG THE WYE RIVER--This year's session of the Maryland General Assembly was a mixture of forward progress in some areas and less so in others as pertaining to the Wye River and other bodies of water, said the Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy, which oversees those waters.
"It was okay, but we could have done better," said Miles-Wye Riverkeeper Tom Leigh of the session that concluded last month. "We did defend and advance some bills that are important to water quality but lost ground on others. Some of the bills are a work in progress and we will maintain our presence and vigilance in Annapolis and look forward to next year's session with clean water in mind."
Leigh, who oversees the Wye River in Queen Anne's County and the Miles River in Talbot County, equated it to cracking the door open a bit and hoping to open it even wider in coming legislative sessions.
Three bills in particular were relevant to the health of local rivers, Leigh said. They were the Lawn Fertilizer Use Act, the Agricultural Certainty Program and the Maryland Pesticide Reporting and Information Workgroup Bill.
Leigh said the Lawn Fertilizer Bill was passed by the General Assembly in 2011 and is set to go into effect Oct. 1 of this year. It regulates the use of fertilizer on residential lawns. It is the first law in Maryland regulating the use of residential lawn fertilizer.
The Conservancy estimates there are over 1 million acres of lawns in Maryland and said lawn fertilizer is much like farm fertilizer because it is rich in nitrogen and phosphorus, "major sources of pollution to our waterways."
Although the law was passed in 2011, there were attempts to amend it during this year's legislative session. Amendments suggested by the Conservancy and backed by more than 20 other environmental organizations were not adopted, but Leigh said progress was made in defining what the term "Waters of the State" means and how it is applied in the bill. It will affect when and where people can use fertilizer.
There will be no application within 10 feet of water, ditches and impervious surfaces, and there will be no application between November and March, the Conservancy said. Fertilizer manufacturers are also required to change the recipe in the bag so that 25 percent of nitrogen must be slow release. No phosphorus is allowed.
It also requires that professional applicators and golf course employees have to be trained and certified by the state on the new regulations.
"How do we use fertilize without getting it into ground water" is what the new law is all about, Leigh said.
There will be a Lawn Fertilizer Management Workshop from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday, May 28, at Chesapeake College's Todd Performing Arts Center for those interested in learning more.
The Conservancy supports the Maryland Pesticide Reporting and Information Workgroup Bill that goes into effect July 1 after a pilot study is conducted. It requires people who use pesticides on a large scale to provide application information to a statewide data base that will track the use of pesticides.
Pesticides are linked to many serious illnesses and are especially dangerous to children, according to the Conservancy.
Although the organization neither supported nor opposed the Agricultural Certainty Program in the final days of the session, it watched it closely because it may affect the organization's work down the road, it said. The program will grant farms that meet certain pollution reduction thresholds a "safe harbor shielding them from being required to implement new practices that come through regulation for the next 10 years," the Conservancy said. It is designed to encourage cleaner farms.