Md. farmers protest water appropriation bill in capital
By SEAN CLOUGHERTY
ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Maryland farmers spoke out last week against a bill that would create a fee schedule for water appropriation and use permits.
In Senate Bill 635, sponsored by Sen. Brian Frosh, D-Dist. 16, no specific fee schedule is established but the bill would require the Maryland Department of Environment to form a work group of industry stakeholders to develop the schedule with MDE officials.
In 2002, a similar bill was proposed and carried a fee schedule ranging from a $500 to $5,000 per year depending on the amount of average daily water use.
Though the bill failed, that fee structure would have cost Maryland farmers $1.9 million per year, more than half the total amount collected from permit fees, according to Maryland Farm Bureau.
At the bill’s hearing before the Senate Health, Education and Environmental Affairs Committee, Frosh and bill supporters said the need for fees comes out of a report issued in 2008 by the Advisory Committee on the Management and Protection of the State’s Water Resources which urged Maryland to develop a more robust and comprehensive water management program.
To accomplish that, the report called for an investment of $72 million over eight years to fund research and provide technical assistance for water resource management.
“The time is really now to start wrestling with this state’s water resource challenges and issues,” said Jai Sakai, director of the MDE’s Water Management Administration at the hearing. “I think the concept of this legislation is to have this work group really decide what the fee schedule should be.”
Farmers who testified said the bill would bring on a new and undetermined fee on them in an already depressed economy.
Pat Langenfelder, Maryland Farm Bureau president, said farmers from across the state who have called MFB to say how much they would have to pay using the fees proposed in 2002.
Figures ranged from $8,000 to $51,000, Langenfelder said.
Charles Wright, who farms about 280 acres in Maryland, said on his sandy but productive soils, “irrigation on our farm is a requirement, not an option” to stay profitable.
“Each crop that I farm has a production budget and there’s no room for increased fees,” he told the committee.
Wes Messick, a Dorchester County farmer, said farmers don’t usually use the amount of water they’re permitted for.
If rains come at the right time, they won’t use any.
“What we have irrigation for is to help when we miss those two or three rains. It’s a supplement to the crop,” he said.
The bill would also discourage the adoption of more irrigation, which is considered a best management practice in farming for efficient use of nutrients, speakers in opposition to the bill added.
“In order to maximize nutrient removal, one must maximize crop production,” said James Adkins, an Extension irrigation specialist at the University of Delaware and a Wicomico County farmer.
Lynne Hoot, executive director for the Maryland Grain Producers and the Maryland Association of Soil Conservation Districts, said the state Watershed Implementation Program calls for adding 120,000 more acres of irrigated cropland to remove 500,000 pounds of nitrogen from the bay watershed through crop use, part of meeting federally mandated pollution reduction goals.
Hoot added that more farmland is disappearing every year in Maryland and across the nation and farmers will have to produce more with less land.
“Irrigation is good way of doing that and not only that, there’s a benefit to the environment,” she said.