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In its commitment to restore the quality of Maryland’s impaired waters, the Maryland Department of Environment (MDE) has recently released a set of maps to help county officials incorporate essential water quality information into their planning decisions. “The maps are useful tools that guide local government in directing growth. They highlight areas where significant environmental challenges must be addressed prior to development in order to protect local waterways, Chesapeake Bay, and Maryland’s Coastal Bays,” said Marie Halka, Deputy Director of MDE’s Technical and Regulatory Services Administration.
“This initiative is one of a series of steps taken by MDE to implement necessary pollution reductions,” said MDE Secretary Kendl P. Philbrick. “Maryland has already instituted nutrient limits for all of its wastewater treatment plants and is in the process of developing nutrient trading procedures.”
Maps Point to Impaired Waters
While local economic development efforts can have a significant impact on water quality, economic development experts do not necessarily have the time or expertise to understand how to address environmental management issues that surface when proposing new development. As part of an educational and outreach initiative, MDE recently distributed county-level water quality impairment maps to economic development officials, local planners, public works, and environmental health officials throughout the state. The maps provide information on the location of the State’s impaired waters and the Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) that have been established to date to address specific impairments.
The availability of these maps enables county and municipal officials and their planning experts to ensure that the important water quality information is incorporated in their local plans. The maps and listings information should be particularly useful to counties as they work toward meeting the new State legal requirement for incorporating a Water Resources Element in local comprehensive plans pursuant to House Bill 1141, enacted by the Maryland General Assembly in 2006.
Uncovering the Layers
Beyond producing printed water quality impairment maps, MDE is also able to provide users with the underlying geographic information system (GIS) layers known as “shape files.” Access to these files will allow local governments to determine whether a major project drains to an impaired water body and thus will result in better-informed land use decisions.
MDE plans to make future updates to water quality impairment maps by using the Environmental Protection Agency’s Assessment Database (ADB). ADB is a national water quality reporting system designed to standardize reporting mechanisms for tracking the success of Clean Water Act programs. Because mapping capabilities are integral to the ADB, the transition to the new system will significantly speed-up the process of updating water quality impairment maps. This will further enhance the ability of local governments to incorporate watershed protection into their plans and development review process on an ongoing basis.
Click here for information about the maps available on MDE’s website.