President’s Message – Jay Martin
I opened my last message with the phrase “May you live in interesting times”. Since then, times have gotten plenty interesting for my blood, and I have hope that with the new administration in Washington, times will get less interesting and protections for the environment will be returning.
The Nanticoke River already has very good news for the New Year! It has been announced that the Town of Hebron’s wastewater treatment plant is to be given high priority for upgrading from its current lagoon system to the highest-level treatment technology. Almost 20 years ago, Ralph Harcum, Sr., whose farm was adjacent to the sewage outfall, contacted the Friends for help. He shared his daily observations, carefully recorded, of the appearance of the water, which was often turbid, foamy, or oddly-colored. We met with the Town Commissioners in 2007, and attended 2 other public hearings over the following years, to lobby for upgrading the plant. This is truly a huge success for everyone involved and for the Nanticoke River. (See article below for more information.)
The Friends continue to provide financial support to the Neighborhood Action Group (NAG) in its effort to overturn the permit for construction of the 3 million gallon tank housing DAF material on Porter Mill Road near Hebron. King Burnett, who served the Friends well as legal counsel for many years prior to his retirement, has joined Steve Smethurst in providing legal counsel, and they are developing a strategy that our Steering Committee feels has a good chance for success.
We shared the DAF material content analyses with an experienced soil scientist, who informed us that application rates are rarely in compliance with the Nutrient Management Plans. This suggests that application of DAF material is driven more by waste disposal goals than by what the crops can utilize. As an organic farmer, I see a detrimental practice being allowed to threaten the health of our farmland and our watershed, and the quality of life for those who live in proximity to the tank. The Friends are committed to agricultural practices that support healthy soils and minimize excessive nutrient application.
River Cleanup at Roaring Point
Our annual fall river cleanup at Roaring Point took place on Sept. 19, 2020. Roaring Point Park was saved from development and conserved in 1996 through legal and advocacy action by the Friends, and it is a true treasure on the lower Nanticoke.
Girl Scout Troop #1049 from Salisbury came out in force to help clean up and had a wonderful time learning about and helping the River.
Hebron Wastewater Treatment Plant
Rewastico Creek is one of the most important tributaries of the Nanticoke River, and even of Chesapeake Bay, in terms of natural resources. This is affirmed by the substantial investment the State of MD has made in its watershed. Maryland DNR’s Nanticoke River Wildlife Management Area includes 1,587 acres at the mouth of the Creek. In 2017, Wicomico County expanded its Quantico Creek Rural Legacy Area to encompass the area containing Rewastico Creek. Maryland has also invested considerable funding in the Rural Legacy Area, with the recognition that these are environmentally sensitive and important areas for conservation.
The Hebron wastewater treatment plant discharges into Rewastico Creek. At a public hearing held by the MD Dept. of the Environment (MDE) on Jan. 26th, the Friends and the Wicomico Environmental Trust continued to voice concerns about excessive nutrient pollution from the plant. Hebron uses a primitive 4-lagoon system to settle, aerate, and chlorinate/dechlorinate wastewater, which is discharged without further treatment into the Creek. The EPA has documented noncompliance with the plant’s permit for most reporting periods in recent years, and there have been frequent violations over many years of the permit limits for discharges. Worse, there are no phosphorus limits in the permit, only a requirement that it be monitored. The lagoon system is ineffective at removing nutrients, and the output of phosphorus is consistently high. The Nanticoke Creekwatchers regularly document some of the highest levels of phosphorus anywhere in the watershed in Rewastico Creek.
At the conclusion of the hearing on the 26th, the Chief of the MDE Municipal Surface Discharge Division, Dr. Cheng, announced that the State now provides funding for Enhanced Nutrient Removal (ENR) upgrades for small wastewater treatment plants, and the Hebron plant would meet the criteria and should receive a high ranking in the application process. He acknowledged that the system as designed will not control nutrient discharges effectively, especially in periods of excessively high rainfall which lead to reduced retention and episodic flushing of the lagoons.
Although the final determination has not yet been published, the Town representative confirmed they are ready to act on this soon. The Friends will submit written recommendations to add to our recorded testimony at the hearing. In the meantime, it appears the permit will be issued for the current plant with somewhat more stringent requirements. However, these are not likely to affect the discharge. It will be important to ensure that the transition happens as soon as possible.
Nanticoke Watershed Alliance hosts
Economics and the Environment in the Nanticoke Webinar
Feb 18, 2021, 1:00 – 4:00 pm
This webinar will cover economic value and impacts of the Nanticoke Watershed, birding, poultry, and fisheries, as well as a review of an upcoming and promising technology, anaerobic digestion of waste such as poultry manure.
To read more and to register, click here
or see the NWA website at www.nanticokeriver.org.
More threats to Rewastico Creek
Animal Waste Rendering Product Storage Tank Update
Legal action continues regarding the 3 million gallon storage tank for Disolved Air Flotation (DAF) material. This tank, near Rewastico Creek in Hebron, has a risk of overflow and spills that threaten not only the creek, but the underground aquifer that supplies drinking water to a large area.
The tank is currently in operation, with deliveries ongoing by large tank trucks owned by Denali Corp., traveling on and obstructing small rural roads. Accidents, including overturning of at least one tanker, serious damage to roadways, and frequent excessive speed have been associated with the tank operation. In addition, offensive odors are frequently present in the surrounding area.
On November 17, 2020, The Wicomico County Council voted unanimously to extend the moratorium for a year on the issuance of building permits for any new DAF material storage tanks.
Because this material comes from numerous sources, some of it has been determined to contain carcinogens and measurable levels of arsenic, as well as extremely large amounts of nutrients. While it is better environmentally to dispose of this material on land than to discharge it directly into the water (for example, the Transquaking River, which receives effluent from one of the producers of DAF material, Valley Proteins), this material should be handled as industrial waste and not as a benign agricultural product.
Legal efforts are focusing on:
The environmental risks that were not considered in the tank permitting process
The concerns regarding the permitting process
What should you do if you see an environmental violation?
The Friends receive calls about possible environmental violations and are eager to help people follow up. To contact a regulatory agency directly, contacts are:
For illegal dumping or littering, contact the DNREC Environmental Crimes Unit (ECU) 24-hour hotline at 1-800-662-8802.
The Waste Management and Reduction office will also investigate and take action. The contact person is:
EPM II, Waste Management and Reduction
For emergency situations such as oil spills or release of pollutants that pose a threat to public health and the environment, call (866) 633-4686.
To report possible violations, contact:
Sediment/wetland violations 410-537-3510
Fish Kills and Algae Blooms 800-285-8195
Other violations? See MDE Numbers to Know online
To report a possible violation of environmental laws and regulations, use the EPA website at:
For emergencies only, call 1-800-424-8802.
Salmon Aquaculture Facility Proposed for Marshyhope Creek
A Norwegian investment group, AquaCon, is proposing to construct four large salmon
aquaculture facilities on Maryland's Eastern Shore. Caroline County recently approved locating the first of these facilities in Federalsburg's industrial park, situated on the major Nanticoke River tributary, Marshyhope Creek.
Marshyhope Creek is federally designated as critical habitat for the threatened Atlantic sturgeon. The company proposes taking in surface river water, cooling it in summer as much as 30o F to meet salmon habitat requirements, then heating it before returning the water to the tributary. All of this threatens aquatic life, including larval and juvenile stages of sturgeon, striped bass, and other native species.
While the Friends support well-managed aquaculture, this project raises serious concerns. We have joined other environmental organizations on the Shore in requesting a meeting with a company representative to discuss these concerns as well as the following issues:
The proposed operations would use unproven and untested technologies never fully demonstrated to work.
AquaCon has several proposed land-based salmon facilities in Norway and Sweden, but none in operation, and only one has even been approved.
Stormwater management plans are vague and the 27-acre size of the facility means it will generate 750,000 gallons of runoff for every inch of rainfall.
Wastewater from the facility may overwhelm the available municipal wastewater facilities. Discharges into the Marshyhope of 2.3 million gallons per day will often contain high salinity, which will damage the freshwater ecosystem of the Marshyhope.
Solid waste is proposed to be treated using anaerobic digestion. However, this process does not work on solids from a salt water system, and its effectiveness at large scale is generally unproven.
Extreme weather events may result in large die-offs of fish, but no plans for responding to these are available.
The organic byproduct of aquaculture, Geosmin, which is released in the discharge, has a highly objectionable odor and could adversely affect aquatic life, including existing farm-raised oyster operations near the outfall.
Aquacultured salmon are fed manufactured protein-based feed to sustain rapid growth rates for commercial production. This typically comes from wild-caught forage fish, like menhaden, sardines, or anchovies, and these species are already depleted in regional waters.
The energy footprint of this operation, or its “caloric exchange ratio,” is likely not sustainable. A calorie is a unit of energy and calories of energy are required to produce calories of food. For example, a head of lettuce grown in California and eaten in a restaurant in NYC uses 24 calories of inputs to deliver 9 calories of food. With a growing human population and a rapid loss of farmland, that ratio is not sustainable. An aquaculture facility that will cover up to 27 acres of land, remove, heat, and cool 40-70% of the surface water from Marshyhope Creek, and deplete other food resources for its raw materials, will require far more calories to operate than will be produced as food.