Smarter Growth Alliance for Frederick County letter on Draft Monocacy Scenic River Management Plan

The following is a copy of a letter sent from the Smarter Growth Alliance for Frederick County (see the list of the 17 organizations that signed the letter below) to the chair and members of the Monocacy Scenic River Citizens’ Advisory Board, and copied to elected officials and key staff of both Frederick County and Carroll County, regarding the Draft Monocacy Scenic River Management Plan.

You can find substantial information about the Monocacy Scenic River Citizens’ Advisory Board and the 2016/2017 Update of the Monocacy River Management Plan HERE. And here is a direct link to the “Executive Summary, Table of Contents, Preface (Chapter 1), Introduction (Chapter 2).”

Note that due to minor formatting changes in publishing this letter here, all of the footnotes appear at the bottom of the letter (rather than at the end of individual pages).


July 12, 2017

Dr. George Grillon
Chair, Monocacy Scenic River Citizens’ Advisory Board

c/o Tim Goodfellow
Frederick County Government
Division of Planning and Permitting
30 North Market Street
Frederick, MD 21701
c/o Byron Madigan
Carroll County Government
Department of Land and Resource Management
225 North Center Street
Westminster, MD 21157

Re: Draft Monocacy Scenic River Management Plan

Dear Dr. Grillon,

The Smarter Growth Alliance for Frederick County is a coalition of local and state organizations representing approximately 16,000 members and supporters in Frederick County. We engage residents and policy makers in support of wise land use that values our rural landscapes, protects our natural resources, and enhances the unique character of our towns and cities to ensure a more resilient and prosperous future.

On November 8, 2016, we sent a letter to the River Board expressing our support for the first draft of the Monocacy Scenic River Management Plan, with a suggestion that the Monocacy River Resource Protection Area (MRRPA) recommendation clearly include consideration for adopting a regulatory setback line among all four jurisdictions represented in the Plan. We received no response from the River Board.

We are writing to express our disappointment in the recent decisions made by the River Board, relating to both the substance and process of the most recent draft Monocacy Scenic River Management Plan, which no longer includes a MRRPA.

Development, certain agricultural practices, and other human-induced impacts within the watershed continue to deteriorate the Monocacy’s beauty, ecological integrity, and biological richness. The River and some of its tributaries are impaired by sediment, fecal bacteria, and phosphorus. These pollutants degrade water quality, threaten surrounding ecosystems, and reduce the viability of the River to continue meeting our drinking water needs.

The Monocacy Scenic River Management Plan is intended to enhance and protect the river corridor. While the first draft Plan, released in 2016, offered a variety of recommendations to support the River’s natural and cultural resources and to foster sustainable land uses within the watershed, the current draft omits common-sense recommendations and does far too little to promote the health of the Monocacy River and the lands and waters feeding into it.

Primarily, we are alarmed that the MRRPA recommendation is no longer included in the current draft. The science supporting riparian buffers as vital to improving the ecological integrity of the River, including its water quality, wildlife habitat, and scenic beauty, is clear.

Riparian buffers are crucial to the River’s long-term prosperity. Without a clearly delineated MRRPA on the River maps, accompanied by a stated recommendation for comprehensive regulatory adoption, it is impossible for the River Board to achieve its stated objectives as outlined by the Monocacy Scenic River Management Plan.

We are aware of landowner opposition to the MRRPA based on concerns related to private property rights. Based on the highly contentious nature of the setbacks, as well as testimony and scientific evidence presented by the public during the hearings, we acknowledge that a property-specific setback should be considered. However, we firmly believe that the benefits of riparian buffers and the vested interests of private property rights are not mutually exclusive, especially when the various compensation options available to landowners for implementing the MRRPA are considered. Many of our representative groups are available to work with individual landowners to apply for and receive compensation to implement riparian buffer plantings and other best management practices for the health of the River.

We suggest including in the Plan a new recommended MRRPA setback that adheres to the Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA) guidelines for Best Management Practices (BMPs) related to forest as well as grass buffers. These BMPs are part of MDA’s Chesapeake Bay Water Implementation Plan (WIP) objectives.[1]

The BMP Definition for Forest Buffers states as follows:

Agricultural riparian forest buffers are linear wooded areas along rivers, stream and shorelines. Forest buffers help filter nutrients, sediments and other pollutants from runoff as well as remove nutrients from groundwater. The recommended buffer width for riparian forest buffers (agriculture) is 100 feet, with a 35 feet minimum width required. NRCS Codes: 391, 650

The BMP Definition for Grass Buffers states as follows:

Agricultural riparian grass buffers are linear strips of grass or other non-woody vegetation maintained between the edge of fields and streams, rivers or tidal waters that help filter nutrients, sediment and other pollutant from runoff. The recommended buffer width for riparian forests buffers (agriculture) is 100 feet, with a 35 feet minimum width required. Vegetated open channels are modeled identically to grass buffers.NRCS Codes: 386, 393, 390

These BMPs were established following USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) practice standards which are incorporated by code references in the definitions above. NRCS codes contain technical information about the conservation of soil, water, air, and related plant and animal resources.

For example: NRCS Code 391 referenced in the agriculture forest buffer definition includes the following criteria to reduce excess amounts of sediment, organic material, nutrients, and pesticides in surface water runoff, as well as reducing excess nutrients and other chemicals in shallow ground water flow, and to create or improve riparian habitat and sequester carbon:

1. The minimum width shall be at least 35 feet measured horizontally on a line perpendicular to the water body beginning at the normal water line, bank-full elevation, or the top of the bank as determined locally.

2. The width will be extended in high nutrient, sediment, and animal waste application areas, where the contributing area is not adequately treated or where an additional level of protection is needed.

3. The width will be extended to meet the minimum habitat requirements of the wildlife or aquatic species of concern.

4. Establish plant communities that address the target aquatic and terrestrial wildlife and pollinator needs and have multiple values such as habitat, nutrient uptake and shading. The establishment of diverse native woody and herbaceous species will enhance wildlife and pollinator values.

5. Select plants that have higher rates of carbon sequestration in soils and plant biomass and are adapted to the site to assure strong health and vigor.

Aerial maps of the River clearly demonstrate that these criteria are not being uniformly applied along its banks, and are indeed absent in many places. A combined 35 foot grass and 100 foot forest buffer in the MRRPA would be an optimal setback standard to provide critically needed wildlife habitat and to meet the clean water goals outlined in the WIPs for each of the four jurisdictions. This standard would need to be flexible according to topography, intensity of land use, and the habitat needs of wildlife (especially for rare, threatened, or endangered species).

Since NRCS practice standards are only voluntary in nature, we feel that they should be recommended as a regulatory setback requirement in the MRRPA as previously mentioned. The WIPs establish ongoing reductions in the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for certain water pollution inputs as mandated under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits required by the Federal Clean Water Act. The presence in the River of pollutants including sediment, phosphorous, and fecal bacteria in excess of their TMDLs are well documented in reports prepared by both MDE and DNR.[2],[3],[4] These pollutants are responsible for much of the poor water quality and biological impairment in the River. [5],[6] In addition, MDE has identified a lack of adequate riparian buffers within agriculture areas as a major non-point source for these pollutants. Implementation of forest and grass buffer BMPs across the Chesapeake Bay watershed is crucial for achieving the TMDLs of these pollutants, thus providing clean drinking water for tens of thousands of people.

We are also troubled that the recommendation to create a community-based Monocacy Riverkeeper was removed from this new draft. While there are many local and state organizations working to protect environmental resources in Frederick and Carroll counties, there is currently no advocacy organization focused exclusively on the Monocacy River. Riverkeepers have advanced clean water – swimmable, fishable, drinkable water – in communities throughout Maryland and the world. It’s a successful model that, if implemented for the Monocacy, would likely help the counties reach their pollution reduction goals. We would consider it a good faith gesture from the River Board to re-introduce this fundamental recommendation. While the creation of a Riverkeeper organization does not require support from the River Board, a recommendation from your entity would help promote collaboration and partnership opportunities when this new stewardship group is created.

We regret that a small, vocal group was able to derail the River Board process over the past year. This group was not representative of the tens of thousands of community members who value the Monocacy River and rely on it as a source of drinking water and recreation. The River Board should have begun this entire process with a series of community meetings to acknowledge and hear from Frederick and Carroll county residents. Many of our representative groups are skilled in community outreach and engagement. We offer our services for future River Board outreach campaigns to help ensure the voice of community members influence the process, rather than the outcomes.

The River Board’s Vision Statement is to promote “a healthy, sustainable River … balancing preservation, conservation, and private property interests emphasizing cultural, historical, natural, and ecological values, including agricultural lands, while providing recreational opportunities.” Unfortunately, the River Board’s emphasis on private property interests is a completely unbalanced approach to managing the Monocacy. This approach threatens the other values described in that vision statement and endangers the very future of the Monocacy. Indeed, the River Board succumbed to a variety of arguments made that were not supported by current science and factual statements.

We urge the River Board to acknowledge the science of riparian buffers and consider the negative impacts of dirty water to all Frederick and Carroll county residents, rather than capitulating to the loudest voices at the expense of a healthy, scenic Monocacy River.

Sincerely,

Kimberly Brandt
Local Policy Director
1000 Friends of Maryland

David Curson
Director of Bird Conservation
Audubon Maryland-DC

Morgan Lakey
President
Audubon Society of Central Maryland

Betsy Smith
President
Cleanwater Linganore

Jennifer Kunze
Maryland Program Organizer
Clean Water Action

Karen Russell
Founder
Climate Change Working Group

Stewart Schwartz
Executive Director
Coalition for Smarter Growth

Kai Hagen
Executive Director
Envision Frederick County

Janice Wiles
Board President
Friends of Frederick County
Land and Cultural Preservation Fund, Inc.

Patrice Gallagher
Board President
Frederick Zero Waste Alliance

Karla Raettig
Executive Director
Maryland League of Conservation Voters

Kirsten Johnson
President
Maryland Native Plant Society, Inc.

Caroline Taylor
Executive Director
Montgomery Countryside Alliance

Caitlin Wall
Policy Director
Potomac Conservancy

Dean Naujoks
Potomac Riverkeeper
Potomac Riverkeeper Network

Steve McKay
President
Residents Against Landsdale Expansion (RALE)

Daniel Andrews
Chairman
Sierra Club Catoctin Group

cc: Frederick County Executive Jan Gardner
Frederick County Council President Bud Otis
Frederick County Council Vice President M.C. Keegan-Ayer
Frederick County Council Member Tony Chmelik
Frederick County Council Member Kirby Delauter
Frederick County Council Member Jerry Donald
Frederick County Council Member Jessica Fitzwater
Frederick County Council Member Billy Shreve
Mr. Steven Horn, Frederick County Director of Planning
Carroll County Commissioner President C. Richard Weaver
Carroll County Commissioner Vice President Dennis E. Frazier
Carroll County Commissioner J. Douglas Howard
Carroll County Commissioner Richard S. Rothschild
Carroll County Commissioner Stephen A. Wantz
Mr. Philip R. Hager, Carroll County Director of Planning
Mr. Tom Devilbiss, Carroll County Director of Land & Resource Management

FOOTNOTES

[1] http://mda.maryland.gov/resource_conservation/Pages/wip.aspx?countyname=Frederick

[2] Total Maximum Daily Load of Sediment in the Upper Monocacy River Watershed, Frederick and Carroll Counties, Maryland (MDE, August 2009)

[3] Total Maximum Daily Load of Phosphorus in the Lower Monocacy River Watershed, Frederick, Carroll, and Montgomery Counties, Maryland (MDE, August 2012)

[4] Total Maximum Daily Loads of Fecal Bacteria for the Upper Monocacy River Basin in Carroll and Frederick Counties, Maryland (MDE, September 2009)

[5] Watershed Report for Biological Impairment of the Upper & Lower Monocacy River Watersheds in Frederick and Carroll Counties, Maryland – Biological Stressor Identification Analysis Results and Interpretation (MDE, July 2012)

[6] Maryland’s Final 2014 Integrated Report of Surface Water Quality (MDE, April 2015)