WSA Climate Change Adaptation Accomplishments and New Initiatives: 2019 - 2022


The following are highlights of accomplishments and new initiatives during 2019 - 2022. Many of these efforts were supported by the Water and Science Administration (WSA) Climate Team.​

Laws and Regulations​​​

A-StoRM:  In 2021 the Maryland General Assembly adopted amendments to the State’s stormwater management statute (2021 SB 227). In response, WSA submitted a report to the General Assembly in November 2021 entitled, “Advancing Stormwater Resiliency in Maryland (A-StoRM): Maryland’s Stormwater Management Climate Change Action Plan”. The Plan includes MDE’s strategy for immediately updating water quantity control standards for watersheds where flooding events have occurred on or after Jan. 1, 2000 and MDE’s plans for updating all other stormwater management regulations.  (Also see, “Communications, Policies and Procedures”, and “Monitoring, Research and Analysis” below).

Cool and Cold Water Protection:  In 2022 MDE WSA is adopting clarifications to Maryland’s regulatory antidegradation procedures for Tier 1 waters that have coldwater existing uses, redesignating some streams as Class III coldwater and identifying others as having unique coldwater existing uses (See Protecting Coldwater Resources in MD). As part of these regulatory changes, MDE WSA is incorporating by reference (COMAR a set of procedures and policy for identifying coldwater existing uses so as to protect the unique biota (e.g., trout and benthic macroinvertebrates) that depend on these waters and the water quality required to support them.  This action plus the Department’s collaboration with Maryland DNR and other stakeholders to monitor for previously undiscovered and undesignated coldwater streams helps to enhance current and future protections for this important but imperiled resource. In addition to these efforts to improve Maryland’s water quality standards protections for cool and coldwater, MDE WSA is also evaluating its coldwater protection mechanisms for its permitting programs. This effort has already resulted in improved screening for sensitive coldwater resources which have led to more protective permit conditions but has also highlighted the need to make revisions to the Stormwater Design Manual and the Standards and Specifications for Soil Erosion and Sediment Control. MDE has also worked with DNR to publish stormwater best practices for protecting coldwater resources HERE.

Wetlands and Waterways Ecological Restoration: In 2022, MDE WSA’s Wetlands and Waterways program began planning for a study required by legislation adopted in 2022 (HB 869). The study is  intended to be a comprehensive analysis of the permitting for ecological restoration projects and will include recommendations for permitting and/or regulatory updates found during the study. Although the legislation is not explicit about climate change, WSA intends to account for climate change considerations. The study is due June 1, 2024.

Tree Solutions Now Act of 2021: In 2021 the Maryland General Assembly committed to planting 5-million trees by the end of 2031. The initiative will have multiple benefits including nutrient reduction to the Bay, greenhouse gas sequestration, and the cooling of streams and developed areas. MDE serves as the lead agency to receive tree data from MDA, DNR, and the Chesapeake Bay Trust (CBT) to track this goal, which entails a 5 Million Tree Program Coordinator position within MDE. Five-Hundred Thousand of the 5-million trees are targeted for planting in underserved urban areas that can also suffer the most from extreme heat.  The tree program coordinator must, by December 1 annually, consolidate the tree planting data and report the State’s progress toward meeting the tree planting goals to specified legislative committees.

Dam Repair & Removal:  Departmental legislation, adopted in 2020, strengthened MDE’s authority to require the repair or removal of unsafe dams (HB 177). This follows 2017 State legislation making dam owner emergency action plans and exercises mandatory (HB 125). These legislative steps are building greater physical and institutional resilience to climate stresses. 

Climate Resilience & the Bay Restoration Fund:  In 2020, amendments to Chapter 44 of the Maryland Constitution expanded the criteria used to determine how to allocate funding from the Bay Restoration Fund (BRF) by including climate resiliency and flood control as issues for MDE to consider when determining the priority of funding for projects (HB 78 2020​). These changes involve programs administered by WSA including:

  • Stormwater projects that provide flood control and assist in mitigating repeated flooding events;
  • Treatment works projects that increase the resilience to manmade or natural disasters such as extreme weather events and sea-level rise; 
  • Projects undertaken by communities that are participants in the National Flood Insurance Community Rating System; and 
  • Projects that reduce risk of flood or coastal hazards in communities identified as “at risk” in the State Hazard Mitigation Plan. 

Permits and Approvals​​

WSA is mainstreaming climate change resilience into permits. The following are steps being taken in that process.

Climate Permit Tracker:  In 2022 WSA finalized a system for tracking the review and climate enhancements of permits, authorizations and other regulatory decision instruments.

NPDES Municipal Wastewater Discharge Permit and General Permits:  WSA has begun the process of reviewing its approval instruments for climate change enhancements, including permits, licenses, certifications, and authorizations. In 2021, MDE WSA staff developed special condition permit language to increase climate resilience for municipal discharge permits. In addition, WSA is in the process of enhancing a number of NPDES general discharge permits.  During 2019-2022, enhancements were proposed to the following draft general permits to promote resilience to heavy rainfall events and associated flooding: a) Stormwater Associated with Construction Activities, including a requirement to periodically update erosion and sediment control (E&SC) plans, and a new Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan (SWPPP) requirement, b) Stormwater Associated with Industrial Activities, c) Stormwater permit for surface coal mining activities, and d) most recently the permit for seafood processing facilities with new SWPPP requirements.

Bermed Infiltration Pond Suspension:  In July 2021, MDE issued a 15-month suspension on the construction of Bermed Infiltration Ponds (BIPs). BIPs have been used as a means of sewage disposal in Talbot, Somerset and Dorchester counties in locations where traditional septic systems do not readily function. Site inspections indicate aging BIPs are beginning to fail or are at risk of failure. The location of these systems tend to be in sensitive coastal areas subject to anticipated climate change impacts including sea level rise, water table rise, and increased rainfall volume and intensity. MDE WSA  conducted an in-depth assessment of BIPs which are to be finalized in a report in late 2022 that lays out steps for moving forward on managing BIPs.

Water and Sewer Plan Amendments: MDE WSA water and sewer plan reviews now screen for various climate change vulnerabilities associated with water and sewer projects. This is intended to raise the awareness of planners and remind engineers of their professional responsibilities to incorporate climate change and resilience into their planning.

The Wetlands and Waterways Program: MDE’s Wetlands program is developing enhanced flood screening tools for permits that could lead to the modeling of larger storms in determinations of flooding impacts associated with waterway construction. Acknowledgement letters and the permit pre-application process from MDE notify permit applicants of their responsibility for projects in flood vulnerable areas.

Riparian Tree Protection: During 2021, MDE’s Wetlands Program enhanced its stream restoration permit application package checklist to better protect mature riparian trees during stream restoration projects. The checklist enhances avoidance and minimization guidance that benefits climate change resilience.

The Deep Creek Lake Dam: The dam operation water appropriations permit for Brookfield Renewables, issued by WMA’s Water Supply Program, uses more current data that reflects observed climate change information. This new data ensures that dam releases will protect cold-water fisheries from the warming effects of climate change and accounts for increased average annual rainfall. 

Communications, Policies and Procedures​​​

​This section covers activities including planning, standard operating procedures (SOPs), guidance (internal and external), correspondence, MDE WSA webpages and social media, fact sheets and other forms of outreach.

WSA’s 2020-2023 Strategic Plan:  This plan identifies Climate Resiliency as one of the MDE Water and Science Administration’s primary goals. It calls for WSA to adapt programs and decision making to factor in changing conditions and preparedness.

WSA issued a Climate Integration Policy and Guidance: In July 2020, WSA’s Director issued a memo that directs all WSA staff to review planning, regulatory, and fiscal programs to include consideration of sea level rise, storm surges and flooding, increased precipitation and temperature, and extreme weather events, consistent with Env. Article §2–1301 through 1306.

A-StoRM:   MDE WSA’s stormwater management climate initiative, Advancing Stormwater Resiliency in Maryland (AStoRM), is a legislatively driven process to update the State’s stormwater management regulations to enhance stormwater quantity controls. The A-StoRM initiative has recently involved the following communications and outreach actions (Also See “Laws and Regulations”, and “Monitoring and Analyses”):

  • A-StoRM HUB: This complex initiative, started in 2021, is supported by an information center called AStoRM HUB launched in 2022. 
  • A-StoRM Regional Kickoff:  In Spring 2022 MDE WSA’s Stormwater, Dam Safety and Flood Management Program initiated its stakeholder engagement process with three regional meetings. A recording of one of these kickoff meetings is available HERE. 
  • A-StoRM Stakeholder Consultation Group:  In Summer 2022, MDE WSA’s Stormwater, Dam Safety and Flood Management Program initiated engagement with a Stakeholder Consultation Group. The group is made up of experts across the regulatory, academic, and private sectors who are being asked to advise on proposals that are being vetted by a number of technical advisory groups (TAGs).
  • Stormwater Regulation TAG:  MDE WSA staff started a series of meetings with a newly formed Stormwater Regulation TAG in 2022, which will help develop and vet proposed regulatory changes.

WSA Climate Website:  In 2021 MDE WSA launched its Climate Adaptation and Resilience Website. During 2022 WSA staff began developing a Climate Change Dashboard, which will feature WSA’s top climate action priority areas. When completed, the dashboard will highlight key climate adaptation activity areas and track progress.

MDE WSA Program Webpages:  During 2022, MDE WSA’s seven programs enhanced their main webpages to begin highlighting how they contribute to climate change resilience and adaptation. See for example MDE WSA’s TMDL webpage.

Flood Awareness Month 2022: MDE WSA staff participated in the planning and events of Maryland’s 2022 Flood Awareness Month (FAM). The FAM is coordinated by the Maryland Resiliency Partnership.  In addition to a wide variety of educational outreach activities, MDE WSA staff conducted a survey to assess baseline awareness of the 2021 FAM by which future awareness can be measured, and to assess the ways people get their information. WSA staff also produced two short flood awareness videos with key messages (the Frederick City video was produced by MDE’s Office of Communications):

Water & Wastewater Utility Climate Vulnerability Assessment Training:  In the summer of 2022, MDE WSA helped the MD Dept of Planning host several of EPA’s Climate Resilience Evaluation and Awareness Tool (CREAT) webinars.

Emergency Response SOPs:  In 2022, WSA programs reviewed and updated their Emergency Response SOPs based on a newly adopted set of best practices.

Tabletop Exercise for Water and Wastewater: MDE’s Water and Science Administration staff assisted with coordinating and participated in an EPA sponsored communication-based functional exercise (FE) event hosted by MDWARN (MD Water/Wastewater Agency Response Network). The virtual FE provided an opportunity for participants to exercise emergency response capabilities in response to a hypothetical extreme weather scenario affecting water and wastewater systems. The purpose of MDWARN is to provide a method whereby water and wastewater utilities that have sustained or anticipated damages from natural or human-caused incidents can provide and receive emergency aid and assistance in the form of equipment, materials, and other associated services as necessary from other water and wastewater utilities.

Tabletop Exercise for Dam Safety:  In Spring 2022, MDE WSA staff participated in a Western Maryland Collaborative Technical Assistance initiative conducted by the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA). Among other things, the initiative included a tabletop exercise centered on the town of Oakland, MD involving the scenario of an extreme rainfall event, of the type being driven by climate change, that placed several dams at risk of failure.

Drought Resilience: In 2022, WSA staff conducted a triennial review of Maryland’s Drought Monitoring & Response Plan, which is recommended by the Plan. Although the plan is dated, it was deemed to be adequate. The review exercise prompted staff to update county contact information, organize outreach and notification materials and consider a review of the groundwater drought monitoring network.

Environmental Justice (EJ) Initiative & Mapping Tool:  In 2022, MDE WSA staff undertook training on MDE’s EJ mapping tool and began instituting actions to devote greater attention to underserved communities. These activities are in response to an MDE-wide policy and consistent with the Climate Solutions Now Act of 2022. Because climate change tends to have greater impacts on underserved communities, MDE’s environmental justice initiative is also a climate justice initiative. WSA staff are participating in pilot projects that focus WSA compliance staff time and inspections on regulated facilities in the communities of Curtis Bay and Cambridge Maryland. The projects have a stated objective regarding climate change impacts on these communities. Partnerships that will develop as a result of these pilot projects will increase the likelihood of resources being directed to these communities to build climate resilience.

Dam Removal Guidance:  In 2022, MDE WSA, in collaboration with Maryland DNR, initiated a process of enhancing its guidance for the removal of dams. Climate Change places stress on aging dams and the removal of certain dams reduces risk. The dam removal guidance development is also motivated by the anticipation of a greater permitting demand due to the availability of increased federal infrastructure funding.

Water Resources Element (WRE) of Local Comprehensive Plan Climate Change Guidance:  In 2022, the WRE Climate Change guidance was released via a Maryland Department of Planning website. This followed work in 2021 when WSA partnered with other State agencies to develop guidance on climate change considerations for the existing WRE guidance.  The purpose of the WRE, adopted via State legislation in 2006, is to identify: “(1) drinking water and other water resources that will be adequate for the needs of existing and future development proposed in the land use element of the plan; and, (2) suitable receiving waters and land areas to meet stormwater management and wastewater treatment and disposal needs of existing and future development proposed in the land use element of the plan.”

Myersville Comprehensive Land Use Plan Review: In 2022, WSA staff reviewed the Myersville comp plan giving particular attention to water supply and drought risk, and considering climate change impacts on fractured rock sources of groundwater. The review prompted consideration of enhancing data collection requirements for water sourced from fractured rock groundwater wells.

Dam Inundation Hazard Mapping:  In 2020, WSA’s Dam Safety Program secured funding from the FEMA Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) for a dam inundation mapping project. This project, expected to be completed in late 2022 or early 2023, will produce digital inundation maps for nearly all Maryland dams. The inundation maps will be hosted on a Dam Safety web portal and on By providing this mapping, people will be more informed about potential flood dangers, more people could be encouraged to purchase flood insurance, emergency managers will have more information, and local governments will be able to make more informed land use decisions that make Maryland more resilient. 

Chesapeake Bay Restoration 2-Year Milestones:  EPA’s 2022 evaluation of Maryland’s 2020-2021 Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP) Milestones praised the State for meeting its commitment to the Principle’s Staff Committee (PSC) 2020 climate change Directive.  The Directive called on states to account for predicted nutrient load increases due to climate change conditions through 2025 in their existing 2019 Phase III (WIPs). - See more details below.  Maryland’s 2022-2023 WIP Milestones include new climate change action commitments.

Chesapeake Bay Climate Addendum for Nutrient Reductions:  In 2021, WSA staff conducted technical analyses to support enhancements to the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP) that offset predicted increases in nitrogen and phosphorus loads estimated to occur in 2025.  In 2022, staff produced an Addendum to Maryland’s Phase III WIP that commits Maryland to achieving these additional nutrient pollutant reductions by 2025.

Temperature TMDLs:  During 2022 MDE WSA continued to develop temperature models for streams that exceed their temperature water criteria. These models are used to develop TMDLs in specific geographical areas of concern, will set protective regulatory limits on heat loads to the stream, and establish a quantitative framework for reducing water temperatures. For example, MDE WSA staff have collected continuous sub-hourly stream and air temperature data during the summers of 2020 and 2021 at twelve sites in support of temperature TMDLs in the watershed that drains to Prettyboy Reservoir in Baltimore County. Although these TMDLs are for the streams in this watershed, they will benefit the downstream drinking water reservoir temperature thereby lowering the risk of harmful algal blooms.

Carbon Sequestration Tracking:  In 2022 MDE WSA staff began collaborating with a multi-disciplinary MDE team to provide technical assistance in tracking and registering nutrient reduction and carbon sequestration using the same data management tools. This is part of a broader effort to formalize carbon sequestration accounting associated with natural and working lands restoration projects. This builds on the work of the Carbon Markets and Sustainable Tree Planting Commission, established by the Tree Solutions Now Act of 2021, and utilizes pay-for-success financing tools enabled by the Conservation Finance Act of 2022.​

Mid-Bay Dredged Material Island: In 2021, WSA staff worked with other State agencies to garner support for a joint State/federal working group to collaborate on the MidBay islands design to include climate resiliency elements and enhance nature-based features.

Maryland’s Ocean Acidification Action Plan: Developed in 2020, the Plan is a collaboration between MDE, the Department of Natural Resources and the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. It is helping to guide action on reducing the causes, better understanding the science (See Monitoring below), and improving communications among key partners, decision makers and stakeholders. WSA regularly presents at events hosted by the Mid-Atlantic Coastal Acidification Network (MACAN), the International Alliance to Combat Ocean Acidification and work groups of Maryland’s Commission on Climate Change. The Plan was updated in 2022.​

Construction Site Stormwater Control:  In 2022, WSA staff continued development of climate awareness guidance for construction site erosion and sediment control that was initiated in 2021. The brief document focuses on avoiding and responding to triggering events that necessitate corrective action. When completed, guidance will be provided to responsible parties by site inspectors at pre-construction meetings.

Water Supply Utilities and Climate Change:  MDE’s guidance brochure on climate adaptation for drinking water utilities was updated in 2021. Originally developed in 2016, the guidance addresses water availability and water quality issues. It provides links to a variety of resources.

Permit Correspondence Communications:  Routine correspondence provides an opportunity to communicate key climate change messages. In 2021, MDE WSA’s Wetlands Program began adding language to permit application receipt acknowledgement letters advising permittees and their consultants to consider the effects of climate change when planning for projects that impact the 100-year nontidal floodplain and the potential for flood risks that might be associated with their projects.

Maryland Climate Change Adaptation Framework: WSA co-chaired the development of the Water Resources section of Maryland’s draft Climate Adaptation Framework, under the auspices of the Maryland Commission on Climate Change’s Adaptation and Resiliency Work Group (2020-2021). 

Beneficial Use of Dredged Material for Climate Resilience: MDE’s Innovative Reuse and Beneficial Use of Dredged Material Guidance Document supports projects like wetland enhancement, island restoration, and "thin layer placement", which build resilience to coastal storm surge and sea level rise. The guidance was updated by WSA staff in 2019.

Compliance Training: WSA staff gave video and live presentations at the 2021 MDE Inspector’s Forum on a) Activities of the WSA Climate Team relevant to MDE field inspectors, b) the draft Erosion & Sediment Control Climate (E&SC) Awareness Guidance, and c) a colleague survey on E&SC climate resilience enhancements.

Monitoring, Research and Analyses​

Drought Vulnerability Resilience:  In 2021 MDE Water Supply Program staff completed a groundwater yield study in fractured rock areas of Maryland, which are vulnerable to drought. This set of studies provides a technical foundation for water appropriation permits that account for drought conditions; however, more data from specific local system sources is needed. In 2022 WSA Water Supply Program staff oversaw completion of a technical study of the viability of indirect potable water reuse treatment system for the City of Westminster in 2022. This technology could provide resilience to droughts in places where it is technically and financially viable.

A-StoRM, Identification of Flood-prone Areas:  In 2022, MDE WSA staff began a collaborative effort with local governments to identify and characterize flood-prone areas. This is a complex undertaking in part because there are many types of flooding, e.g., coastal, riverine flooding and pluvial flooding, and because flooding occurs at a variety of geographic scales ranging from a street intersection, to several backyards to entire stream valleys. The causes of the flooding are similarly complex. This is part of the A-StoRM initiative described under Laws & Regulations section above.

Ocean/Coastal Acidification:  When elevated CO2 enters the atmosphere, large amounts dissolve into water bodies. This causes the water chemistry to shift in the direction of acidity, which among other things makes the formation of calcium-rich shells more difficult. To better understand and prepare for impacts from this phenomenon, during 2021 and 2022 MDE WSA staff, in collaboration with DNR and the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES), have been developing a set of carbonate system monitoring plans for the Chesapeake Bay.  Ocean Acidification monitoring instrumentation for the partial pressure of CO2 (pCO2) has been made available to MDE as part of a partnership with NASA to ground-truth new remote sensing technology. The remote sensing technology could also enable more efficient and rapid detection of potentially harmful bacteria and hazardous algal blooms.

Probable Maximum Precipitation (PMP) Study for Maryland Dams:  A probable maximum precipitation (PMP) event is the greatest depth of precipitation at a particular location for a given duration that is meteorologically possible. This theoretical maximum is likely changing due to climate change. High- and significant-hazard dams must be structurally sound enough to safely pass a PMP storm event or 50% of the PMP storm event (respectively). In 2020, WSA staff secured funding to update Maryland PMP estimates via a three-phased process. The first phase was completed in 2021 and phase 2 is nearly complete in 2022. PMP depths have been derived by storm type (local, general, and tropical) and at durations required for proper hydrologic modeling analyses for any location and any basin within the State. Findings have been peer reviewed. Funding for Phase 3 has been secured for work in 2023, which will produce a final report, and a GIS PMP database and data access tool. These products will support Maryland’s outreach and make the PMP research actionable by dam owners and their engineering consultants for designing BMP embankments, control structures, and axillary spillways.

Harmful Algal Blooms:  Climate change induced warming of waters and more nutrient runoff from increased rainfall is predicted to cause more harmful algal blooms (HABs). In 2020, MDE WSA invested in updated laboratory analysis equipment to automate enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) analyses used to identify waterborne toxins associated with HABs. By cutting the testing time for multiple HAB toxins by days, WSA can now more rapidly respond to multiple simultaneous emergency events that might require issuing hazard advisories to water supplies, shellfish harvesting areas and water contact recreation areas.

Living Shoreline Protection:  For several years MDE has directed EPA funding toward conducting a series of technical tidal shoreline analyses and the development of updated shoreline maps. The product is a Maryland Shoreline Stabilization Map.  A tool that will better enable MDE permitters to more rapidly and effectively determine when living shoreline methods must be used as directed by Maryland’s 2008 Living Shoreline Protection Act. Living shorelines are generally considered to provide more ecological benefits and climate resiliency.

Climate Water Resource Impact Research & Synthesis: WSA programs are tracking research undertaken by the Chesapeake Bay Program to understand the methods and metrics used to forecast future climate conditions and anticipated impacts on water resources. These methods can directly affect regulations, calculations that determine limits on pollutants and other technical regulatory requirements.

Modeling & Predicting Climate Impacts:  WSA’s Water Protection, Restoration and Planning Program is developing watershed hydrology models and exploring climate scenarios to quantify the effects of the future climate on water budgets, stream temperature, pollutant transport and floodplain deposition. These models are calibrated using high-resolution (sub-hourly) stream temperature and turbidity observations collected by the WSA Field Investigations and Environmental Response Program.


Chesapeake Bay Restoration & Climate Resilience Funding:  In Spring 2022, MDE WSA coordinated with other State agencies to identify projects with climate resilience co-benefits to effectively use $2.8 million of the Most Effective Basin (MEB) funds provided by the EPA Chesapeake Bay Program Office. These funds, from the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), gave priority to underserved communities. 

Technical Assistance for Underserved Communities to Secure Climate Resilience Infrastructure Funding:  WSA led an effort to steer about $400,000 towards helping underserved communities compete for future infrastructure grant funding. This will allow these communities to build climate resilience to flooding and other risks, while also helping to restore water quality.

Flood Management Infrastructure:  Legislation has been adopted to restore funding to the Comprehensive Flood Grant Management Program over several recent years. Between FY20 - FY 22 Governor Hogan and the Maryland General Assembly authorized over $34 million in capital funding for flood mitigation, which can have Bay restoration co-benefits. 

Flood Management & Capital Projects Planning:  In 2022, MDE WSA staff developed a proposal to fund three pilot projects to develop watershed flood analysis models and flood management plans. The pilots will guide development of methodologies to help better integrate stormwater and flood management as part of the A-StoRM initiative.

For further information about any of the recent accomplishments and initiatives of MDE’s Water and Science Administration, please contact Matthew Rowe at

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