Fifty-six years ago, Maryland’s Waterway Improvement Fund was established to fund waterway improvements, promote recreational and commercial boating, and improve the safety and navigation of Maryland’s waterways for the benefit of the general boating public.
Since its inception this important program has provided more than $300 million in funding for 4,500 projects at public boating access sites across Maryland. If you use a publicly owned boat ramp or marina in our state, there is a good chance that it was funded and is maintained with funding from this program.
For Fiscal Year 2023, our department is continuing this legacy by awarding $13.5 million in Waterway Improvement Fund grants to 45 applicants statewide, supporting efforts that include new public boating access points; dredging of navigable waterways; and emergency vessels and equipment for local first responders.
In addition to infrastructure, great boating relies on great water quality. One of our key goals for Bay restoration is removal of nutrients pollution and sediment from the water. Despite weather and other challenges, we are pleased to report that long-term monitoring by our department has identified reductions in polluted runoff entering the Bay. Also, for the third year in a row, researchers from the University of Maryland Center for Environment and Society, University of Michigan, and the U.S. Geological Survey are predicting the Chesapeake Bay will experience a 13% smaller dead zone than the long-term average, measured since 1985. DNR monitors hypoxia every summer and our regular reports will begin later this month, so we will be able to track if this positive prognosis holds through the year. This is all positive news, but we must continue our efforts to maintain progress.
The Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays Trust Fund is one of the most important water quality financing programs in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. This program allows us to identify the most meaningful and cost-effective projects in communities across Maryland to improve water quality and meet our Bay restoration goals.
We are grateful for Governor Larry Hogan’s continued leadership in fully funding the Trust Fund and for recently approving $18.8 million in grants. The projects awarded this funding round will benefit local waterways and the Chesapeake Bay by removing more than 41,083 pounds of nitrogen, 4,332 pounds of phosphorus, and 7,967 tons of suspended solids.
In addition to our state efforts, Maryland’s marina operators play an important role through participation in the state’s Clean Marina Program, a voluntary program of pollution prevention practices for boaters and marine facilities. Last year, 106 marinas enrolled in DNR’s Pumpout Operations and Maintenance Program which assists in keeping stations operational and available to the boating public.
These are great examples of how Maryland is enhancing outdoor recreation while also protecting our natural resources. The improving trends show that our continued efforts and investments are paying dividends for current and future generations to enjoy our treasured Chesapeake Bay. We would like to thank Maryland’s waterway users, our marine industry partners, and our local communities for doing their part and supporting practices that protect our waters!
Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio is Secretary of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources