Rays Gobbled Up in "Endangered Species Soup"
Citizens Aren’t Waiting on Politicians for Clean Water

64 Percent Willing to Pay More "Flush Fee" to Clean Up Bay

NasaimageofbayWould you be willing to pay a few dollars more every month -– perhaps the price of a Subway sandwich and a soda -- to keep sewage out of the streams where your children play?
 
I would.  And a new poll finds that about two thirds of my neighbors would, too. Sixty-four percent of Marylanders say they are willing to pay more into the state’s Bay Restoration Fund (also known as the “flush-fee”) to finish upgrading sewage treatment plants and reduce stormwater pollution into the Chesapeake, according to a December 11-15 poll of 801 Maryland residents by Opinion Works Research and Communications of Annapolis.
 
Right now, the “flush fee” is $2.50 per household per month. The fund, created by the Maryland General Assembly in 2004, has done a tremendous amount to reduce pollution into the Chesapeake Bay, paying to upgrade 23 sewage treatment plants so far.  But the fund is now facing a future $385 million shortfall if it is going to meet its mission of improving all 67 major sewage treatment plants across the state, according to the Maryland Department of the Environment.

The state still has 44 more sewage plant projects that need to renovated or completed -– including the massive plants that serve the Baltimore area -- and it will soon run out of money.
 
On top of this, there is also the problem of stormwater runoff. Cities and counties across the region need to invest in stormwater pollution control projects to meet new Chesapeake Bay pollution limits.  These projects (which often look like ditches or ponds filled with plants) filter out oil, antifreeze, pet waste, and other pollutants that are washed by rain off of roads, parking lots and yards.  This type of runoff can be seen vividly in the NASA satellite image of the Bay after a rain storm, shown at top.

Building these stormwater control projects to meet Bay pollution limits is expected to create 178,000 construction jobs, according to a new Chesapeake Bay Foundation report.  But still, for these construction workers to start working, polluters (that means me and you) need to pay our fair share for cleaning up our waste.
 
Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, to his credit, unveiled a proposed budget yesterday that would double the Bay Restoration Fund.  (Residents on septic systems would see their monthly "flush fee" double from $2.50 to $5, according to The Baltimore Sun. Customers on metered water systems would pay a rate based on usage — meaning some would see their fee double and others could actually pay less.)

This is a good start, because this increase is absolutely needed for clean water.  But even one of Governor O’Malley’s own advisory comittees, the “Task Force on Sustainable Growth and Wastewater Disposal” last year advised that a tripling of the “flush fee” would be necessary.
 
And, truth be told, even a tripling might not be enough.  A coalition of environmental groups in the Clean Water, Healthy Families Coalition (including the Chesapeake Bay Foundation) is urging the governor and Maryland General Assembly to be even more realistic still about the investments that will be necessary to clean up the Bay and restore the region’s Bay-related economy. 
 
“We urge lawmakers and the Administration to put in place additional funding for runoff treatment, either through a larger increase in the flush fee, or the establishment of a required stormwater utility fee,” said the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's new Maryland Executive Director, Alison Prost.
 
“We have made progress,” Prost said.  “But closed swimming beaches, dead zones, and other signs indicate the Chesapeake Bay still is a system dangerously out of balance.”

Even if the "flush fee" were quadrupled, we'd still only be talking about an additonal $7.50 per month per household to finish the job of cleaning up the Bay. Think of it as investing the money you might have spent on one sandwhich and Coke at Subway on creating jobs for local construction workers, so they can keep sewage and filth off of you or your child when you swim. That's not too much.

By Tom Pelton

Chesapeake Bay Foundation

(Photo: NASA)
 

 
 

Comments

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Tom,

We all know he was your favorite, but at least give Governor Ehrlich and his staff some credit for this. It was a tough sell in his own party, but he stepped up and got it done. The CBF said it was one of the most significant moments in the history of CB restoration (I was there when Will said it.) So really, it was not created by the 2004 General Assembly, it was created by the folks at Governor Ehrlich's shop and the folks at DNR.

Sincerely,
Former Ehrlich/DNR employee.

Why is the fund facing a shortfall? How about you spend within your means like the rest of the government? Or has the rest of the government raided this fund? I don't agree with increasing the fee.

You need to work hard to increase public understanding of this issue and the need for funds. In addition, I live near the edge of the watershed, and many people are upset about paying a fee if their water does not travel to the Bay. Yes, there are areas in MD that are not in the Bay watershed! An increase in fees would cause an absolute uproar. I agree that all improvements to sewage treatment are great, regardless of the watershed. But how about we work on other issues as well, such as promoting and increasing our forestland (often underappreciated for protecting water quality)?

When we were hit by three blizzards during the winter of 2009/2010, I heard plenty of people in Baltimore complaining about the slow pace of, or in some areas, the lack of, snow removal. Yet I never heard anyone suggest that we increase taxes in order to pay for more equipment, supplies, and man hours to improve snow removal in the future.

It's simple: if we want something, we have to pay for it. I want a cleaner bay, so I'm willing to pay.

I do not agree with the accuracy of the poll I do NOT want an increase in the tax. They need a larger sample of the general population in Maryland. The poll was conducted by OpinionWorks and was paid for by the Clean Water, Healthy Families Coalition, which includes the state's major environmental organizations. They got the results they paid for, this is not an unbiased poll.

In addition WSSC is proposing 7.5% increase this next year after an 8% increase this year. This is too much for water and sewer customers to afford in a hard economic time.

Vince Berg

301-977-2920

bergvh@starpower.net

Flush tax seems like a valid way of internalizing an externality (pollution from sewage and septic). Upgrades of wastewater treatment plants have historically provided significant water quality improvements in the Chesapeake Bay. Remember, there's always someone downstream, and it should be the polluter's responsibility to keep the water clean.

I'm living on social security, and I am being charged a fee I didn't agree to nor do I remember being asked if I could afford. I need my small income to live on, why am I paying for something that is not beneficial to me? I don't live near the bay. To some people this is not a lot of money but to the elderly it can cause financial difficulties. Pay extra on utility bills or pay my house payment. Guess which one is more important to me.

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