Maryland Implements New Long Term Water Supply Planning Requirements

Although Maryland is rich in water resources, some areas of the state do not have water supplies that are sufficient to support the multitude of human and environmental uses of this critical resource.  In order to ensure the long-term sustainability of the state’s water supplies to meet competing needs over the next fifty years, the Maryland Department of Environment (MDE)’s Water Supply Program has undertaken a number of different initiatives to comprehensively evaluate, plan for, and manage the state’s water resources, and ensure that Maryland public water systems are able to meet current and future needs.

In May 2006, House Bill 1141 regarding Land Use – Local Government Planning was signed into law as Article 66B of the Annotated Code of Maryland.  This law was developed in response to recommendations outlined in “Water for Maryland’s Future: What We Must Do Today:  Final Report of the Advisory Committee on the Management and Protection of the State’s Water Resources.”  Article 66B requires all local jurisdictions, including both counties and municipalities, to include a Water Resource Element in their Comprehensive Land Use Plans, and also requires that they address Municipal Growth, Priority Preservation Areas, and Sensitive Areas.

A primary goal of Article 66B is to ensure that local jurisdictions evaluate demand and water availability before making land use decisions.  In the past, local jurisdictions sometimes found themselves in the position of having approved growth for which they could not meet water demand.  The Water Supply Program carefully evaluates capacity data when issuing water appropriation permits and has the ability to restrict development based on water availability.  However, limiting growth through this process can result in developers and towns making significant economic investments before learning that the there is not enough water to meet the increased demand.  The new requirements of Article 66B build on Maryland’s existing planning efforts, which include county-level water and sewerage plans that outline how safe and adequate water and sewerage facilities will be provided to support planned redevelopment and new growth; and Capacity Management Plans, which assist local governments and other community water supply systems to allocate their water supply capacity in a responsible manner.

The Water Resources Element (WRE) helps counties and municipalities to fully integrate future land use planning with water supply capacity, source water protection, stormwater management, and the need for future water and wastewater infrastructure improvements. To help counties and municipalities prepare the WRE, staff from the Maryland Department of Planning (MDP) and the MDE developed a models and guidelines document entitled, “The Water Resources Element: Planning for Water Supply and Wastewater and Stormwater Management,” and conducted workshops in a variety of locations around the state.  The plans were due in October 2009 (with extensions allowed until October 2010), and must be updated every six years with other comprehensive plan updates.

When the counties and municipalities submit their Comprehensive Land Use Plan to the state, it is reviewed by both MDP and MDE staff.  At MDE, the plans are reviewed by programs that regulate public drinking water, water appropriation, and wastewater treatment, as well as by staff who work with the state’s nonpoint source and TMDL programs, and other planning efforts.  In Maryland’s Water Supply Program, staff who are assigned to conduct sanitary survey inspections, and geologists who oversee water appropriations, are familiar with the history of each community water system, as well as the county water and sewerage, and capacity management plans.  When the WRE is submitted, staff meet to discuss relevant issues, and often find that the joint review enables them to identify critical concerns and reveal problems that would otherwise have been missed.  Coordinating efforts across program areas ensures that communities’ across the state have water resources that are safe and adequate to meet current and projected demand.  In addition to the Water Resource Element, Article 66B requires local jurisdictions to include the following elements in their Comprehensive Land Use Plans:

  • Municipal Growth:  To comply with Maryland’s smart growth laws, counties and municipalities have designated “priority funding areas.”  These priority funding areas also serve as designated geographic boundaries for funding of new or improved infrastructure for water and wastewater utilities, as well as roads and transportation.
  • Priority Preservation Areas:  This element is for counties that voluntarily wish to establish or continue certification of their farmland preservation programs by the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation and the Maryland Department of Planning.  Preserved areas help to ensure ongoing recharge within an aquifer.
  • Sensitive Areas:  The fourth change, from HB 1141, requires that two additional topics be addressed under the existing Sensitive Areas Element:  agricultural lands and forestlands intended for resource protection and conservation.  Improvements in this element can contribute to meeting the water resources proposals of the WRE.

Another important planning tool is the county Water and Sewerage (W&S) Plan, which is required to be updated every three years.  Land use changes may not occur if they are not included in the W&S plan, and MDE has the authority to approve or deny an amendment to the plan if it is not consistent with the Comprehensive Land Use Plan, or with MDE laws, regulations, policies, and programs.  The W&S plan lays out the county’s plan for meeting capacity, including sources, treatment infrastructure, and storage and distribution systems.  The W&S plan must include plans for meeting both water and wastewater needs, and MDE staff review the plans to ensure that plans for each are consistent.

In addition to these ongoing planning efforts, Maryland recently published the “Phase II Strategy for Reducing Maryland’s Vulnerability to Climate Change.”  This document identifies vulnerabilities and makes key recommendations for climate change adaptation measures in six program areas, including water resources management.  MDE is the lead agency for undertaking the report’s recommendations related to water resources.

In these days of tight budgets, planning efforts often end up on the back burner.  Maryland has shown that comprehensive planning can go a long way toward protecting water sources, ensuring adequate capacity, and promoting better management of water resources. Over time, proper planning can both protect resources and save money for state agencies and the regulated community.


Managing Maryland’s Growth — The Water Resources Element:  Planning for Water Supply and Wastewater and Stormwater Management

Guidance Document: Water Supply Capacity Management Plans

Guidance Document: Wastewater Capacity Management Plans

Final Report of the Advisory Committee on the Management and Protection of the State’s Water Resources

Comprehensive Strategy for Reducing Maryland’s Vulnerability to Climate Change Phase II: Building societal, economic, and ecological resilience

Maryland Department of Planning Water and Sewerage Plan website