(Oct. 9, 2020) Reduced state funding will be one of the major topics during the Maryland Coastal Bays Program virtual policy committee meeting next Thursday.
The focus of the meeting, which will be held via Zoom, is to discuss goals and projects. The policy committee will give advice and guidance for the program’s future endeavors.
Kevin Smith, director of the Maryland Coastal Bays Program, said that the water quality monitoring program is one of the areas taking a financial hit. Most of that funding comes from two state departments — the Department of Natural Resources and the Department of the Environment.
However, those two sources are struggling to provide funding with covid-19 crippling the economy. Smith said he is expecting revenue shortfalls.
“The main point is to make sure that we can collect the kind of information to really assess the current health of the coastal bays,” Smith said. “While some of the monitoring may get cut, how do we cover those gaps? It’s really about how we partner with other folks to get these things done.”
Smith explained that the program has continuous monitors in the coastal bays that, in a minute or less, can report on the water temperature, transparency and chlorophyll levels. Those continuous monitors are over 20 years old and need to be replaced.
“It’s not that we’re going to lose the ability to assess our water quality, it’s just the standard of detail that we’re used to,” Smith said. “These are things we need to figure out, how we can maintain the standard of monitoring that we’ve really enjoyed for the past 20 plus years.”
During a Worcester County Commissioners meeting last month, Smith said the United States Geological Survey recently shut down its stream gauge on Birch Branch in the St. Martin’s area. It was the only stream gauge in the coastal bay area of Worcester County.
He added that keeping the coastal bays healthy is important because many people use the waters for fishing, clamming, going to the beach, camping, exploring Assateague, boating and canoeing.
Those activities require clean water and a healthy fish and wildlife population.
“Without having a healthy environment, I think the very foundation of eco-tourism and tourism generally, could be imperiled,” Smith said. “Maintaining healthy coastal bays, preserving a healthy coastal bay, trying to restore areas where we can, is all important to help maintain this overall economic health that’s here on the lower shore.”
He said that thankfully, the program’s funding from the Environmental Protection Agency has remained steady.
The coastal bays program will also be celebrating its 25th anniversary next year, but with a few changes because of covid-19.
“Even if we plan something for six to 12 months in the future, we’re just not really sure what exactly the future looks like,” Smith said. “That’s made it a little difficult for planning, but we are going to be having some special events and things like that for the 25th anniversary. Whatever we do, we’ll make it covid-safe.”
The program has invited various state agencies and county and town representatives to the meeting, which normally is held at a public venue. Smith said that a video of the meeting will most likely be posted on the Maryland Coastal Bays website for those interested.