Maryland opens application to purchase $25 million of PA, NY, & MD nutrient reductions, in historic “Pay-for-Success” program to mitigate Conowingo pollution.

The Susquehanna River Basin Commission announced today the opening of its application for proposals offering cost-effective reductions of nutrient pollution entering the Chesapeake Bay from the Susquehanna watershed.

$25 million was appropriated by Maryland in 2022 to meet its requirements under the Conowingo Watershed Implementation Plan. Through the unique authorizations created by Maryland’s Conservation Finance Act, this will be the first instance of one Bay State paying for quantified water quality outcomes initiated in another. The public funds will be spent “up-stream,” investing in pollution reduction projects outside of Maryland.

Organizations including for-profit companies and nonprofit groups will be selected through a reverse auction with approximately $10 million being allocated to the most cost-effective and high-impact proposals in this first round. Awardees will enter into a “Pay for Success” contract with payment based on verified nutrient reductions. Payments will only be made after outcomes are verified. As a result, Maryland’s investment north of its border is sure to create down-stream results, making a cleaner Chesapeake Bay for Maryland residents.

Specifically, Maryland is required to reduce 180,000 lbs of nitrogen and 3000 lbs of phosphorus entering the Chesapeake Bay as determined by the Conowingo Watershed Implementation Plan, a multi-state effort to mitigate the periodic pulses of pollution from the functionally full reservoir behind Conowingo Dam. Sediment, nitrogen, and phosphorus from the Susquehanna River and the creeks and streams that make up its watershed have been piling up behind the dam for years. More frequent and intense rain events all but guarantee periodic scouring of the dam, causing significant influxes of pollutants.

All Chesapeake Bay Program Best Management Practices are accepted, but proposals will be ranked by the all-inclusive cost it takes to reduce a pound of nitrogen. The projects that propose to reduce the greatest amount of nitrogen at the lowest price will have the highest cost-effective ranking. With life spans allowed up to 20 years, projects from straightforward cover crops to long-term riparian forest buffer plantings will all be paid based on the pounds of nitrogen they prevent from going in the water each year. Proposals that involve dredging will be given extra consideration.

Only projects located in the Susquehanna River watershed will be accepted, anywhere from Cooperstown down to Havre de Grace. Those projects that are in Maryland Counties located within the watershed or within sub-watersheds of creeks and streams that enter portions of the Susquehanna within Maryland will receive greatest priority.

Visit: SRBC’s “Conowingo Pay-for-Success” website for the full Request for Proposal.