The local county Phase II Watershed Implementation Plans are in, and the state of Maryland made its own submission to the Environmental Protection Agency this week. You'll recall that WIPs are the plans required to reduce pollution in our own backyards, which will reduce pollution entering the Chesapeake Bay. Each county in Maryland was required to outline steps it would take to reduce pollution from stormwater runoff, agricultural activity, septic systems and wastewater treatment.
The Wicomico County Phase II WIP -- developed under the direction of the county Planning and Zoning Department, with participation from local municipalities and the agriculture sector -- is an excellent start. Compared to many other county plans, the Wicomico WIP provides a thorough analysis of the current amount of pollution entering our local waters and where target reductions will have to be made. The county staff that developed the plan should be commended for their work, which required using new online tools, gaining understanding of best management practices (BMPs) in pollution reduction, and navigating the sometimes changing demands of the EPA and the state. Where the plan falls short is on the commitment side. Many possible strategies -- for example, creating a tree canopy program or expanding sewer services to areas where septic systems are failing -- are mentioned, but often for "further consideration" or pending future funding. On one level, this is understandable, as the planners do not have the authority to commit local funds for new initiatives.
However, if we are serious in our desire to clean up our local waterways, keep our drinking water safe, reach a point where we are able once again to eat fish from and swim in the Wicomico River and to continue to draw visitors to our beautiful natural landscape, we need to find more imaginative ways to bring needed resources to the table.
While the WIP is a state and federal requirement, it is in our own best interest to develop local capacity to work on pollution reduction activities. One model is the public-private partnership, like Salisbury Mayor Jim Ireton's Wicomico River Project. Others could include an economic development and educational initiative to train people (and companies) to work in this growing sector.
This is your clean water plan. The Wicomico County Phase II WIP can be reviewed on the county's website (click here). Suggestions and revisions to the plan will be made over the next six months. You can learn more and see suggestions for ways to help on the website of the Wicomico Environmental Trust (click here). Let's work together to strengthen the plan and find ways to turn strategies into realities.