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I wanted to update the SRRKC last night on some important developments, but the Severn River Commission meeting ran long. So, here's everything in a nutshell:

(1) Proposed Saltworks Creek Development. As you may of heard, the AA County circuit court effectively ended an effort, lead by our own Riverkeeper, to prevent a housing development on some steep, wooded slopes along upper-Saltworks. Unfortunately, even more trouble could be on the way. Another developer is proposing another community along some additional steep slopes on Saltworks and actually is asking to build a bridge over the upper-creek (otherwise, he will argue, he cannot access the land, which just wouldn't be fair). The preliminary plans apparently are chock full of requests for critical area variances. A number of smart folks are on top of this and will fight it. Stay tuned. They may need help.

(2) Letter to waterfront homeowners. A month ago I floated the idea to the SRRKC -- and to the Riverkeeper, with the SRRKC helping to raise funs through tournaments -- to send a brief letter to all Severn waterfront homeowners and community associations explaining the connection between lawn fertilizer and harmful algae blooms, and asking people not to fertilize during the Spring (the time of year when algae blooms can cause the most harm). After digging around, I learned that the Severn River Association (a private group) has already received a grant from the Chesapeake Bay Trust to send out this type of letter. One letter has already gone out. It's not what I would of wanted -- it hits on a number of broad topics and generally encourages activism through joining the SRA -- but it's a start. However, when I recommended that an additional letter go out specifically regarding fertilizer, I was told that the SRA has no plans to do such a thing.

Here's the dilemma. Since the SRA already received a CBT grant for public outreach, I doubt that CBT would provide a second grant to us or anyone else (e.g. - Riverkeeper) for the same thing. I'm still working on this and plan to speak with the head of SRA, soon. Realistically, however, I thing we're too late for the spring fertilizer letter and, instead, can donate money to the Riverkeeper -- if we wish -- for other worthwhile projects.

(3) Septic systems on the Severn. Remember all of the concern from septic users when the flush fee was enacted? The concern was that this money was solely for wastewater plant upgrades, which septic owners don't use (at least not while they're home).

Well, it turns out that some of this money is now being channeled back towards the septic owners in an effort to upgrade their systems. The reason is that we are learning that these systems, particularly where the homes are close to the water, leach quite a bit of nitrogen that makes its way back into the Severn.

The County recently undertook a survey to learn just how many septic systems it has. The results are sobering. Many shoreline communities in the Severn are absolutely loaded with old, leaky septic systems (Herald Harbor may be the worst). The County and State are starting to reach the conclusion that, even with proposed septic upgrades (about $16,000 in flush funds per home), quite a bit of nitrogen will still find its way to the Bay.

So, the County is now creating a priority list for putting homes currently on septic onto the public system. Homes in the most sensitive parts of the watershed that cannot realistically be put on the public system will be prioritized for flush tax septic upgrade funds. The task is daunting, but at least the County (and State) is beginning to address it.

(4) TDML: This acronym stands for "Total Daily Maximum Load" of various items that a particular body of water can take before it becomes substantially impaired vis a vis its native wildlife. That's an oversimplification and some of you may be much better versed on this than I. This term is legally important under the federal Clean Water Act, however, because one can make the argument that a system already over its TDML for a particular pollutant (I think nitrogen, phosphates, trash, sediment and fecal bacteria are factored) cannot allow any further TDML loads without risk of losing federal funds. The State has just informed the SRC that it will begin testing and monitoring the Severn for fecal bacteria TDMLs. If it is over the TDML limits, the County may have difficulty allowing any additional development in the watershed.

(5) Ron Bowen. For those of you not familiar with Ron, he's the head of the County Department of Public Works. DPW is responsible for everything from roads to stormwater management to trash collection. Ron is widely recognized as a masterful manager who, with fewer funds than necessary, manages to provide our County with some of the finest local public works services anywhere. Ron is also intensely concerned about wastewater (sewage) issues and stormwater runoff. He is not afraid to tell it like it is to politicians and explain, without sugar coating anything, what is required to correct these problems. Ron was Janet Owen's DPW head, but he has so much broad based respect that Leopold not only kept him, but also transferred critical areas to this watch and ordered the Planning & Zoning Dept. to work closely with Ron. Ron seemed energized yesterday about Leopold's no-nonsense approach.

One thing that Ron and has staff have been doing for quite some time is to take inventory of the stormwater and septic systems that actually exist in the County (incredibly, this had never been done). In doing so, he's making a priority list of what needs to be done first to have the maximum impact on water quality. Along with this effort, Ron told us yesterday that his department has gathered an enormous amount of data and modeling on the Severn -- probably more per-acre data than any other watershed in the world. He plans to put this on some DVDs for me and the other commissioners. I'll let you know when I get these in case any of you want a copy.

Finally, although I'm not a member of the Severn River Association, its newsletter has some interesting info occasionally. Here's the link: http://www.severnriver.org/sralog/sralog200702.pdf

Sorry for the long-winded report.

P.S.- the Severn River Commission Websight is Severn River Commission
 

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Excellent update, Jeff! Glad to hear you spent your "non-SRRKC" time wisely :))

Sounds like some of these water quality issues are being taken much more seriously than in the past. That's great news. Seems like every step forward is a mighty challenge, too.

Thanks for keeping us posted on the latest happenings... I'm not sure how else we'd ever learn about all that's going on with our river.
 
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