Maryland’s Use Classification System for surface waters is a vital component of Maryland’s Water Quality Standards. The Use Classification System categorizes the Aquatic Life Designated Use of water bodies as Non-tidal Warmwater, Estuarine and Marine Aquatic Life, Non-tidal Cold Water, and Recreational Trout Waters. In many cases, the Use Class of a waterbody determines which water quality criteria are used to identify impaired waters and write permit requirements. Therefore, the Use Class of a waterbody has significant policy implications.
Interactions with various stakeholder groups as well as internal discussions have highlighted certain issues associated with Maryland’s Use Classification System that need to be addressed:
- Certain streams classified as Use Class I (warmwater aquatic life) or Use Class IV (trout-stocking waters) have been shown to support naturally reproducing trout populations. This situation implies that the stream has an ‘existing use’ that is different from the current designated use.
- Certain streams support an aquatic life community that is ecologically distinct from Use Class I, III or IV streams. These streams may need to be protected under updated water quality criteria associated with one or more new Use Classes.
- Similarly, the method for identifying Use Class IV waters does not take into account the large variety of “put and take” fisheries that exist in Maryland.
- Maryland does not currently have a policy for determining the attainability (also known as a Use Attainability Analysis or UAA) of a given use class.
To help inform the Department’s efforts on these issues, the Water Quality Standards Section formed an advisory committee composed of stakeholders and subject matter experts. To date, the committee has completed the first objective to address waters with existing uses that require cooler water than what their designated uses specify.
The text below provides the mission of this advisory committee along with the four main objectives. Below the objectives are the materials from past committee meetings.
Mission Statement of the Committee: To provide policy recommendations to the Maryland Department of the Environment that protect Maryland’s cold and coolwater streams and the aquatic life dependent on these streams.
The Committee will accomplish the mission by achieving four separate but related objectives that will help to provide regulatory certainty while at the same time protect cold and coolwater aquatic life species found in Maryland’s surface waters: