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New President Words Worry Maryland Democrats, but Republicans Praise Them

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President Donald Trump’s inaugural address did little to quell some Maryland Democrats’ anxieties over what they see as a potentially divisive administration.

But Republicans like Holly Malec, who recently moved with her family to Rockville, Maryland, from Texas, said she was heartened by Trump’s promise to unite Americans and work for the people.

“I think he can help Americans get along,” she said.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, was doubtful, issuing a statement denouncing the tone of Trump’s remarks.

“President Trump had an opportunity today to unite this country in his inaugural remarks. He chose not to do that,” Hoyer said. “The president will have to set aside such divisive rhetoric. He must extend a hand to the plurality of Americans who did not choose him to be our next leader.”

In Maryland last November, 60 percent of voters backed Democrat Hillary Clinton for president. She was in attendance at Friday’s inauguration.

While Hoyer went to the inauguration, more than 60 other Democratic lawmakers boycotted, including Maryland Democratic Reps. Anthony Brown and Jamie Raskin.

In his speech, Trump criticized what he described as elitist Washington politics that ignored the needs of regular citizens, and vowed to put power back into the hands of everyday people. But he offered little in the way of addressing what many see as his own brand of elitism — and potentially conflicting relationships — within the private sector.

Maryland Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin, who has been an outspoken critic of Trump’s expansive business ventures and potential conflicts of interest, released a statement on Twitter condemning Trump’s complex web of multinational business ties.

“Now @realDonaldTrump is president, he is bound by oath to uphold & defend the #Constitution. Mr. President, you must divest from businesses,” Cardin tweeted.

Citing a phrase from the Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution, he added, “This is not an esoteric argument about rules. Divestiture from business dealings protects @POTUS and the country from #conflictsofinterest. @POTUS remaining entangled w/ private businesses invites foreign entities to curry favor through leases, deals, gifts.”

Cardin, a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is part of a group of Democratic legislators working on a bill that would force Trump to remove himself from any conflicts of interest regarding his domestic and international businesses.

As Thomas Monje, 30, listened to Trump’s inaugural address on his way home from Lanham to Rockville, he said he felt shocked.

Trump assumed office with unprecedented unpopularity, and Monje, who voted for Clinton, said Trump’s remarks did not show a willingness to heal a divided country.

“The only silver lining I see from all of this is when the American people get pushed into a corner they are very resilient,” said Monje. “I think in the next four years we’ll be seeing a lot of activists and people who will rise up to the challenge.”

The first move of Baltimore’s newly elected city council last month was to unanimously pass a resolution condemning Trump’s “divisive and scapegoating rhetoric, rooted in hate and prejudice.” In Trump’s inaugural address, he referred to crime and “poverty in our inner cities,” and said “this American carnage stops right here and stops right now.”

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh said in a statement after the address that she looked forward to working with the incoming administration on “infrastructure improvements and putting Baltimore residents to work.”

Despite Maryland’s deeply Democratic electorate and Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s refusal to vote for Trump, Hogan attended the inauguration, as well as other pro-Trump Marylanders.

Malec, 46, said she’d been frustrated by the amount of negative discourse in politics recently and hoped Trump could help in mending the divisions she believed had grown up among various sectors of the population.

Rick Villareal, 45, a Trump supporter from Severn, soaked in the moment. His greatest takeaway from the speech was optimism.

“The energy level of trying to make America great again, that whole theme,” Villareal said. “There is hope, and we just continue striving together.”

By ELLIE SILVERMAN, MIA O’NEILL and JUSTIN MEYER

Mid-Shore Arts: The National Music Festival Finds Its Sea Legs

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When Maestro Richard Rosenberg and his partner and wife, Caitlin Patton, informed Chestertown in late 2011 that the National Music Festival (NMF), with about one hundred musicians and dozens of planned public performances, would move to their town, one could almost hear the whole of Chestertown say collectively, “who, us, really?”

With a population close to 5,000, and at least forty to fifty miles away from urban centers that would traditionally do a better job in hosting such a large undertaking, Chestertown seemed an unlikely candidate for such a honor. Nonetheless, for a community that prides itself for its love of the arts, and particularly music, there was also a feeling that their small town had just won the lottery. 

Now entering its sixth year of operation on the Mid-Shore, Richard and Caitlin sat down with the Spy last month to talk about the remarkable success the NMF has been in Chestertown and how well suited it has become in bringing together some of the best student talent in the country to learn and perform throughout the region. They also talk about NMF’s year-long educational programming with local schools, and their aspirations for the Festival in the years ahead.

This video is approximately five minutes in length and made in cooperation with the Mid-Shore Community Foundation. For more information about the National Music Festival, please go here.  

Will Trump Help Elect Those Who Will Impeach Him by Al Sikes

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Life-shaping forces are constantly in motion but do not, at the moment, predict emerging realities. Clarity is only possible when yesterday is understood.

While life-changing forces have sped up, we can only understand them by slowing down. Few anticipated the election of a radically different candidate. Few anticipated the power of a small group who changed the way most Americans look at same-sex marriage. And, understanding both the Industrial Revolution and the emergent computer industry provided insight into today’s societal and economic disruptions.

The turn of the calendar poses some really interesting questions. Gatherings for conversation should not bore. But, since we are days away from President Trump, I am going to take a quick look back and forward in an effort to gain perspective on his likely trajectory.

We have had forty-four presidents. The constitution and laws have limited their power, but each has had some impact on the institution. While every president has had his “we are at a crossroads” theme, most have been forced into patience by the difficulties inherent in leading such a large institution that is guided by lifers while checked and balanced by Congress and the Supreme Court.

George W. Bush might have been a good small-bore president, but 9/11 resulted in an on and off again National Guarder becoming the top general, so to speak. He went beyond his capacity to understandably lead. It doesn’t take too long for the public to sense leadership without understanding.

Perhaps the Affordable Care Act would have fallen of its own weight but the dysfunctional roll out of exchanges and the mistaken claim that “if you like your health care plan you can keep it” crippled President Obama. The Act was signed into law on March 23, 2010; less than nine months later the people’s legislative chamber was controlled by the Republican Party.

The inauguration of Donald Trump is two days away and while there will be claims and counterclaims about how well he is doing; our democracy will make a definitive judgment less than twenty-three months later. And, given relentless polling and the influence it has on legislators who want nothing more than to be re-elected, judgment day will not await the November, 2018 elections.

Rather than masquerade as a historian let me simply look back a few decades. Donald Trump resembles Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon. Neither had a reservoir of goodwill and when boldface error became evident, through the swamps of Vietnam and Watergate, the muck exerted an irreversible hold.

I joined President Reagan’s administration a year ahead of the full revelations of the Iran-Contra affair, the infamous arms for hostages trade. Indictments and convictions ensued, and on March 4, 1987, Reagan delivered a nationally televised address, taking full responsibility for his Administration’s actions. I could feel the strength of his Presidency ebbing and saw, in the President’s admission, the possibilities of renewal.

According to Gallup, President Reagan’s approval ratings plummeted from 63% in late October to 47% in early December and stayed relatively low throughout 1987. By the time he left office his ratings had rebounded to 53%. Similar declines and rebounds occurred with Bill Clinton.

The President-elect has been in Spring Training the last two months; he will go directly to his World Series games, beginning Friday. His penchant for attacking almost anything that moves in an opposite direction will not serve him well. He should never forget that the self-important will only give respect reciprocally.

Trump knows that he would not hire somebody to run his hotels without hotel experience. Yet, his tendency to err when tweeting and then leave it to subordinates to clean up, portray a leader who is confused. Silence serves preparation which then serves clarity and ultimately public confidence.

Washington needs disruption, but history shows it disrupts more than it is disrupted. To disrupt effectively, embedded interests must be understood and finessed. Finesse and Twitter are mostly mutually exclusive.

The 45th President-to-be needs to take a deep breath and probe for insight from those whose pictures adorn a residence that will not be called Trump Tower. He can be both unconventional and conventional and succeed. If he chooses to be wholly unconventional (often off-the-wall), he will help elect those who will start impeachment proceedings in the next Congress.

Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books. 

Those Were The Days by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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The date was July 27, 2004 and a relatively unknown but highly charismatic black man named Barack Obama, the junior Senator from Illinois, was delivering the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention at The Fleet Center in Boston. Suddenly, like Rip Van Winkle, I was awake and alert after a long, long sleep. Maybe it was his fresh face or his energetic prose or his hopeful message, but whatever it was, I was starstruck. I had to meet him to see if he was real.

Back then, I worked in an independent school in the suburbs of Washington. Washington is all about connections and sure enough, the father of one of my students had worked with Senator Obama on his Boston speech. “Do you think I could meet him?” I asked. A couple of weeks later, we (student, father, and me) were on our way downtown to meet Senator Obama.

We spent about 45 minutes together. Mr. Obama was genuine; he listened; he asked meaningful questions. In some elemental but unscripted way, he forged an easy human connection. When we posed for a photo, I asked him if he thought he might ever run for President; he assured me he only wanted to serve the people of Illinois. Looking back, I don’t think he was being disingenuous; I just don’t think he was there yet in his own mind. When I returned to school later that afternoon, I told my colleagues I had just met the man who would be the next President of the United States. They either laughed out loud or said, “Obama? Who’s he?”

A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since then, some of it calm, some of it roiling. I don’t think Mr. Obama has been a perfect President: he scolded Wall Street but left it largely unscathed; his use of drones defined a new, dangerous, and opaque type of warfare; police and community relations deteriorated drastically with often deadly results on both sides But history can be a temperate judge and despite Mr. Obama’s perceived failings, I still believe it will judge him favorably as much for his humility, decency, and grace as for his progressive domestic and international accomplishments: unprecedented job creation, healthy markets, the Affordable Care Act, the Marriage Equality Act, the death of Osama Bin Laden, the Paris Agreement, and the Iranian Nuclear Deal, to name but a few. That he was our first President of color is culturally important; that he was a devoted husband, loving father, and empowering presence in the lives of so many previously marginalized citizens is a human legacy that will, in the end, more than stand the tests of time.

In his Farewell Address on January 10, Mr. Obama spoke fervently about the state of our democracy: “Understand, democracy does not require uniformity. Our founders quarreled and compromised, and expected us to do the same. But they knew that democracy requires a basic sense of solidarity – the idea that for all our outward differences, we are all in this together; that we rise or fall as one.”

My favorite images of Mr. Obama came in the unstaged and unguarded moments of his Presidency: playing peekaboo with a child on the floor of the Oval Office; holding hands with his wife; laughing along with his daughters; sipping a beer or hanging out at a diner with his late-in-life “brother,” Joe Biden. They are the images of a remarkably unselfconscious man who innately understood, appreciated, and practiced the genuine human interconnectedness that is the firm foundation of our political union, the truth that—in fact—we really do “rise or fall as one.”

Thank you, Mr. President.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, and the Philadelphia Inquirer. “A Place to Stand,” a book of his photographs, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015. He is currently working on a collection of stories called “Musing Right Along.”

Out and About (Sort of): 90 Days Matter by Howard Freedlander

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Some years ago, former Congressman Bob Bauman, a Talbot County resident who once represented the First Congressional District, quipped that the American people were always in trouble when Congress was in session. The sharp-tongued United States representative used self-deprecation to describe democracy and the oft-criticized actions of our 535 federal legislators.

Rep. Bauman used humor to portray himself as a fiscal conservative who might not be as dangerous in budgetary matters as his associates.
I’ve often thought about Bauman’s crowd-pleasing comment when the Maryland General Assembly meets for its annual 90-day session. The 2017 session began last Wednesday, Jan. 11 and adjourns at midnight on Monday, April 10. Then, the 188 state legislators leave their “mischief” and return home.

Having worked with our state legislature for a large part of my career, I view our delegates and senators as public servants seriously conscientious about enacting legislation helpful to their constituents. I well understand that some disagree with me and question the value and motives of our state legislators.

I don’t. In fact, I would urge all citizens to watch what happens in Annapolis for three months.

Why do 90 days matter in our state capital?

Budget decisions affect the money going to our public school system. That’s critically important. New school construction and renovations only happen with state funds.

Non-profit capital projects in Talbot County and the Mid-Shore receive dollars due to the largesse of state legislators and the governor.

Money for new roads and bridges result from budget decisions made in Annapolis.

In this session, the General Assembly will decide whether to fund a study of a third Chesapeake Bay span. That’s unquestionably important decision for those who favor as well oppose expansion.

New rules and regulations concerning environmental matters and the health of the Chesapeake Bay are directly tied to legislative actions.

Funding for Program Open Space affects the preservation of farms and forests on the Eastern Shore.

There are so many issues that I haven’t mentioned, such as law enforcement, economic development, health care, higher education and workplace conditions, that fall under the purview of the Maryland General Assembly.

Does politics, both local, regional and state, play a role in the final products of an often divisive legislative session? Of course it does. It always has and always will. It’s the nature of the process.

Though our national epidemic of political polarization has infected deliberations in Annapolis, I believe it’s a little less pronounced, a little less poisonous. That’s my take, perhaps a bit naively.

We are now in the third year of the Hogan Administration. Typically, the Republicans and Democrats begin to position themselves for the 2018 gubernatorial and legislative elections. At times, deliberations over bills and policies resemble a slugfest.

The political environment will likely become toxic at times. Gov. Hogan will face off against Senate President Mike Miller and House of Delegates Speaker Mike Busch. The public will watch either with interest and glee or despair and disgust.

Your perspective depends on your political bent.

I recommend that citizens closely observe the machinations of our General Assembly. Bills passed and killed all have impact. They matter to individual and interest groups.

This column is not intended to be a clarion call for civic engagement. It’s meant to inform readers that the 90-days session has significant implications for all of us.

Notwithstanding former Congressman Bauman’s admonition, I recommend vigilance—and participation. Even a dash of admiration.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

What Would Martin Say? Ashley Jones on the Meaning of MLK in 2017

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For Pastor Ashley Jones, her first memory of Martin Luther King, Jr. comes from her mother who was in the eleventh grade was he was killed in Memphis in 1968. In fact, Ashley was born in Kent County some twenty-five years after his murder, and yet a personal connection with him has been a critical part of her life and her ministry.

As she prepares for her role as keynote speaker at Kent County’s annual Martin Luther King, Jr. breakfast in Rock Hall next Monday, Ashley spent some time with the Spy to talk about this special relationship with the late civil rights leader. She also talks candidly about race relations now, and most importantly, she begins to answer the critical question of the day; What would Martin Luther King say in the face of this extraordinarily challenging time for African-Americans in the year 2017.

This video is approximately eight minutes in length

6th Annual Concert Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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The Kent County Arts Council and the Garfield Center for the Arts invite you to attend the 6th Annual “Lift Up Our Voices in Song” concert on Saturday, January 14th at the Garfield Center in Chestertown.

The commemoration in honor of the birthday of Dr. King begins at 5 pm. Admission is free with donations encouraged to the charities supported by the MLK Breakfast Celebration.

mlk2017_fbThis annual performance will recognize the power that music and poetry played in the Civil Rights movements, while celebrating the culture that continues to work for social justice. It is dedicated to the memory of Reverend Clarence Hawkins, a beloved member of our community and fierce advocate of social justice who passed away last year. Reverend Hawkins was the first African American to be elected to the Kent County Commissioners in 1993. He served as president during his last four years with the Commissioners and was the pastor of the Holy Trinity AME church in Edesville. He was an educator in Kent County for 32 years and was an inspiration to those looking for ways to positively effect change in the community.

The program will include performances by Lester Barrett, Jr., The Mt. Olive Praise Team, Andre Sisco, The New Gospelites, The Brian Black Family, and the Gospel Shepherds. There will also be poetry read by Robert Earl Price, comedy from Rakeem Hicks and Rakeem King, and a performance by the praise dancer Alberta Johnson. The emcees for the evening are Reverend Sheila Lomax and George Lomax.

This event is co-sponsored by the Chester Valley Ministers Association Breakfast Celebration, the Kent County Arts Council and the Garfield Center for the Arts. For more information please visit www.garfieldcenter.org or call the box office at (410)810-2060. The Garfield Center for the Arts at the Prince Theatre is located at 210 High Street in Chestertown.

Mid-Shore Arts: The Looms and Art of Ulrika Leander

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The art world has just a few very special heros who take it upon themselves to work in mediums requiring intense intricacy, precision, and endless patience to complete their work. And nowhere else can one find that special breed stand out more than those who chose the art of tapestry for their artistic expression.

And one can officially include the Mid-Shore’s Ulrika Leander in that select group.

Starting at the age of thirteen in her native Sweden, Ulrika has become one of the great masters of the loom with her intentionally beautiful and large tapestries created in her generous studio a short walk from the Oxford-Bellevue Ferry.

Like clockwork, Ulrika works every day in front of one of her three custom-built looms to produce art that is proudly hung in museums and private homes throughout the world. With a typical project taking well over six months to complete, Leander has found a particular zone to operate in as she plots along a single line of fiber during a day’s work.

In her Spy interview a few weeks ago, she talks about this unique, centuries-old practice, and how she enjoys the special challenges that come with the making one-of-a-kind tapestries.

This video is approximately four minutes in length. For more information on Ulrika Leander work and studio, please go here.

Conowingo Dam No Longer Helping Save Chesapeake Bay

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For decades, Conowingo Dam was the Chesapeake Bay’s biggest friend.

Even before scientists realized the Bay was sick from too much nitrogen and phosphorus, the 94-foot concrete wall on the Bay’s largest tributary was holding back tens of millions of pounds of the nutrients that would have fueled even more greenish algae blooms.

The friendship was severely tested at times. Tropical Storm Agnes flushed huge amounts of stored sediment from behind the dam and into the Bay, smothering grass beds and oyster reefs, and causing havoc. And migratory fish were none too happy that it became nearly impossible to swim up the Susquehanna River to spawn, despite huge investments in “fish elevators.”

But without the dam, more nutrients and water-clouding sediment would have poured into the Bay for most of the past century. Algae blooms would have been more intense, and oxygen-starved dead zones would have been larger.

Now, scientists say, the dam’s reservoir can hold no more nitrogen, phosphorus, or sediment — what comes into the reservoir goes out.

The Bay’s best friend has nothing more to give.

And now, state and federal policy makers must figure out who has to pick up the slack.

Should it be the upstream states, where the nutrients and sediment originate? Or, because the entire Bay benefitted from past reductions, should the whole region share the pain? Since the job ahead is going to be harder, should states get more time to offset the Conowingo effect?

It’s one of the stickiest questions that decision makers face as they map strategies to help the Bay — and its watershed — meet the 2025 cleanup deadline imposed by the 2010 Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load, the bay’s “pollution diet.”

“It’s probably the decision that will be the most challenging to the partnership because it is potentially so divisive,” said James Davis-Martin, Bay coordinator with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and chair of the Bay Program’s Water Quality Goal Implementation Team. “It can set the us-against-them mentality in place.”

No more ‘free ride’

The Bay Program is in the midst of a “midpoint assessment” of the 2010 clean up plan, which set nutrient and sediment caps for each state and river. The resulting pollution reductions were intended to reduce algal blooms, improve water clarity and enhance oxygen levels to sustain fish, crabs, oysters and other aquatic life.

States were to take all needed actions by 2025 to achieve those reductions — including planting cover crops, installing stream buffers and upgrading wastewater treatment plants. But the pollution diet also called for a review in 2017, during which the states and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency were to assess progress, weigh new information and make any needed course corrections by the end of that year.

Few issues have changed more than Conowingo since 2010.

When the TMDL was written, the EPA assumed that the dam’s reservoir was trapping as much as 20 percent of the nitrogen and 50 percent of the phosphorus coming down the Bay’s largest tributary as it had for decades — and that it would continue to do so through 2025.

But research shows that’s no longer so. A review by the U.S. Geological Survey found that Conowingo has been trapping fewer and fewer nutrients since the 1990s, and sometime in the last few years reached the point where it essentially was no longer retaining nutrients and sediment.

“The free ride is over,” said Robert Hirsch, a USGS research hydrologist whose work a few years ago was the first to show the dam was starting to leak more nutrients downstream. “What comes in basically goes out under the current situation.”

Recent reports by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bay Program’s Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee reached the same conclusion.

That lost trapping capacity has masked improvements made upstream. USGS monitoring shows that the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus in the lower Susquehanna River above the dam has decreased since the early 1990s. But because nutrients are no longer effectively being trapped in the reservoir, there has been little net change in the amount passing Conowingo and entering the Bay. In the last two decades, nitrogen levels measured below the dam have decreased slightly, while those for phosphorus have increased a bit.

The upshot is this: Because of the dam’s diminished trapping capacity, the nutrient reductions called for in the Susquehanna watershed by the TMDL are no longer enough to meet dissolved oxygen goals in the Upper Bay’s deep waters .

Who bears the burden?

Computer modeling done for the Corps estimated that to meet oxygen goals without Conowingo’s help, areas upstream of the dam would need to keep an additional 2.4 million pounds of nitrogen and an extra 270,000 pounds of phosphorus annually from getting into the Susquehanna. Those would require 9 percent greater nitrogen and 38 percent greater phosphorus reductions from now to 2025.

In an appendix to the TMDL, the EPA said that if the Conowingo reservoir did fill prior to 2025, it would consider assigning steeper cuts to areas of Pennsylvania, Maryland and New York upstream of the dam to make up the difference.

But some question whether that is fair, or realistic. Pennsylvania — which would bear the brunt of additional reductions — is already lagging far behind in its cleanup. It needs to ramp up the pace of nitrogen reductions five-fold just to meet current goals.

“The idea that they would be able to absorb a bunch of previously unaccounted-for loads may not be a viable alternative,” Davis-Martin said.

And, some question whether all of the additional responsibility should be placed upstream of the dam, as the Bay has been a major beneficiary of the dam’s past reductions.

“We have collectively reaped the benefits of the reservoir and its trapping capacity, and maybe there is a reasonable expectation that we share the consequence of that trapping capacity being lost,” Davis-Marin said.

Beth McGee, senior water quality scientist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said the debate about who bears the burden results from bad timing. The nutrients from Conowingo are considered “new” only because scientists didn’t recognize that the reservoir was nearly filled when nutrient allocations were made to states and rivers in 2010.

Those allocations were based on several principles, including that places with the greatest impact on the Bay bear the greatest cleanup burden, but also that as a matter of equity, everyone must share in the task.

If the dam’s fading benefit had been recognized in 2010, McGee said, those additional nutrients would have been divided across the watershed using that formula.

“We would have factored in the new way Conowingo was behaving, and I don’t think anyone would have debated it,” she said.

Under that scenario, areas upstream of the dam would still have to undertake the greatest action — because they have the greatest impact — but some of the burden would be spread among downstream jurisdictions.

Efficiency vs. equity

But spreading the burden comes at a price, literally.

Modeling estimates in the Corps’ report suggest that meeting the water quality goals would require almost twice the reductions — 4.4 million pounds of nitrogen and 410,000 pounds of phosphorus — if spread using the allocation formula. That’s mainly because the Susquehanna has a greater impact on dissolved oxygen levels in the Upper Bay than almost any other part of the watershed. Spreading the burden would likely increase the cleanup cost by millions, if not tens of millions, of dollars.

Those numbers could increase. The computer models used to make those nutrient reduction estimates are being updated and improved with new research. Final estimates won’t be available until late next spring. Officials don’t expect them to change dramatically, but say it’s more likely the needed reductions would increase than decrease.

Some have argued for a hybrid approach in which actions to offset Conowingo would be carried out wherever, and however they could be done most cheaply,b ut with financial responsibility shared through interstate trading, under which states in other parts of the watershed would send cleanup funds to those where the reductions would cost the least.

Though enticing, that option is unlikely. Right now, Bay Program officials say the tools do not exist to support such decisions. And even if they did, most are skeptical that politically, states would willingly send their cleanup money elsewhere. All states still have substantial work to meet their own TMDL goals — reductions necessary to not only meet Bay water quality goals, but also those within their own tributaries.

Push Conowingo offsets beyond 2025?

Other actions could soften the burden and reduce costs. For instance, it is possible states may be able to reduce more of one nutrient and less of the other if it would achieve the same overall water quality goal. If it is less expensive to control phosphorus than nitrogen, a state could opt to spend more on the cheaper option, if the Bay benefit is the same.

“I don’t think that will be the total solution, but it may help,” said Lee Currey, science services director of the Maryland Department of the Environment and co-chair of the Bay Program Modeling Workgroup. “I think that would be something to add to the menu of how we solve the problem, but not a solution by itself.”

Another idea put forward is that states would continue to be required to meet current nutrient reduction goals by 2025, but they would be allowed extra time to offset the impact of Conowingo.

“One of the guiding principles we’ve been operating on since 2010 is adaptive management,” Davis-Martin said. “It is not unreasonable to say new science requires that we adapt our timeline.”

But the EPA has opposed suggestion of extending the 2025 deadline, calling it a “non-starter” at meetings.

Viewed in isolation, the Conowingo impact seems small. The primary impact of the extra nutrients is on dissolved oxygen in one relatively small area, the deepwater portion of the Upper Bay.

Right now, that area lacks enough dissolved oxygen to support aquatic life about 29 percent of the time during the summer. Under current model estimates, if all currently required nutrient reductions were made, but Conowingo’s impact is not offset water quality standards would be exceeded 3 percent of the time.

That may seem small, but as McGee said, “we need to plan for it. Otherwise, what is the difference between 3 and 5 percent, or 5 and 6 percent? I think you need to draw a line in the sand.”

Indeed, other factors that have changed since 2010 will also pose challenges. Preliminary estimates suggest that offsetting the impacts of climate change on Bay water quality by 2025 might require a level of nutrient reductions similar to those needed to offset Conowingo’s lost trapping capacity. Also, additional phosphorus reductions are likely to be needed in parts of the watershed because in areas with intense animal farming more of that nutrient is leaking from soils than previously thought. Population growth and development will produce more nutrient pollution as well.

“If you start to add all of those up but don’t account for them, then you won’t get back to a healthy system,” said Rich Batiuk, associate director for science with the EPA Bay Program Office.

By Karl Blankenship