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Water: Nonpoint Source Success Stories

Maryland (Section 319I - 1994)

Maryland has been focusing its nonpoint source efforts on nutrient reduction strategies for the Chesapeake Bay. This involves cleaning up problem areas at their source-- the tributaries--before they reach the bay. Through its targeted watershed project, Maryland is directing its attention to several small watersheds that have been degraded from urbanization or agriculture. These targeted watersheds are the focus of a pilot project demonstration of how state and local cooperation can have a positive impact.

Cleaning Up the Bay at its Source

Maryland's Targeted Watershed Project is attempting to improve water quality and habitat conditions in four relatively small watersheds through pollution control, monitoring, and restoration. Much of the monitoring of best management practice controls since 1990 has been funded by section 319 grants totaling approximately $264,000 from FY 1991 through 1994. Of that total, approximately $125,000 has been spent on the German Branch. While most efforts to clean up watersheds take as many as 20 years, water quality improvements for the German Branch tributary to the Chesapeake Bay have not taken long at all. The German Branch basin, located in Queen Anne County on Maryland's Eastern Shore, is a 12,000 acre sub-basin of the Choptank River. Used heavily for agriculture, the watershed suffers from excessive nutrient and sediment loads. The aim of the German Branch project--and the major target of the Chesapeake Bay program--is to reduce sediment and nutrient flow to the tidal river and into the Chesapeake Bay.

The German Branch has a substrate of mostly sandy soil in a clay base that traps water and results in perennially wet areas. Consequently, the region is replete with drainage ditches. These ditches accelerate drainage, moving water quickly off the land and into the streams. This means that best management practices could have a much more rapid effect on the quality of the water flowing from the basin into the Chesapeake Bay. Farmers in the German Branch basin were concerned about water quality. So when approached by the Queen Anne Soil Conservation District (SCD) to implement nutrient management practices, 93 percent of the farmers agreed. Under the program, an SCD nutrient management specialist works with farmers to develop a nutrient budget based on the existing level of nutrients in the soil and on crop needs. A nitrogen soil test, for example, helps determine if a second application of nitrogen is needed. In 1991 and 1992, nutrient management on 8,150 acres reduced the amount of nitrogen applied by 225,793 pounds, or an average of 27.7 pounds per acre. Nutrient management on 7,600 acres reduced the amount of phosphorous applied by 144,194 pounds, or an average of 19 pounds per acre.

A comprehensive monitoring program established by Maryland's Environment and Natural Resources departments and funded by section 319 measures the effects of the nutrient management and other water quality efforts in the German Branch and other targeted areas. This data will establish baseline water quality and biotic conditions, estimate pollutant loads, evaluate water quality trends over time, and detect any changes in biotic conditions. The Queen Anne Soil Conservation District and County Cooperative Extension Service are also taking the lead in information and education. The agencies sponsored field days for farmers to explain the benefits of nutrient and conservation planning. During the cropping season, farmers receive a newsletter discussing the results of weekly field surveys for insects and weeds and providing recommendations for treatment. After nearly three years, Maryland is beginning to see positive changes in the German Branch basin. Best management agricultural practices should result in further changes in the water quality within the next several years.

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