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Regulatory Toolkit

Trash washes up on the shore of Baltimore Harbor's Middle Branch, near the Hanover Street Bridge.

America’s waters have improved dramatically since the passage of the Clean Water Act by Congress in 1972. The law is designed to protect the many uses Americans wish to make of their rivers, streams, lakes and bays, including recreation, fishing and swimming. It lays out a regulatory structure for governing the discharge of wastewater from industry and from households, and it regulates “nonpoint” sources of water pollution such as farm fields and city streets.

Locally the Clean Water Act is administered by the Maryland Department of the Environment, which delegates much of the responsibility to the local jurisdictions. Maryland also has many state laws related to water quality as a result of the decades long effort to restore the Chesapeake Bay. Examples include the Critical Areas Act, the Reforestation Act and the new Stormwater Management Act.

Certain regulations have led to well-known programs designed to deal with the kinds of pollution problems that face Baltimore Harbor.  Notable are the MS4 stormwater permits program; TMDLs (total maximum daily loads), which set pollution limits for local waterways; the NPDES (national pollutant discharge elimination system) permit program; and requirements which limit the amount of stormwater that can be released from land that is being redeveloped.

Of special note is the Baltimore Watershed Agreement, signed by Baltimore City and Baltimore County initially in 2002 and again in 2006. The 2006 agreement led to a detailed implementation plan which is consistent with the recommendations and strategies in this Healthy Harbor plan. Click here to read more about the Baltimore Watershed Agreement (link leaves site).

One of the messages of the Healthy Harbor plan is that existing laws and regulations appear sufficient to address most of the problems facing Baltimore Harbor and its tributary streams. Problems occur when regulations are not fully enforced; or because agencies lack adequate staff; or because technical questions delay implementation; or, perhaps most importantly, because funding is grossly inadequate for the size of the job.