The following op-ed appeared on Southern Maryland Newspapers Online earlier this month.
At least seven rural Maryland counties have banded together to step back from local pollution-reduction efforts, and instead focus attention on pollution coming over the Conowingo Dam at the southern end of the Susquehanna River. The St. Mary's County commissioners will soon decide whether to join them.
The coalition's stalling strategy threatens to undermine a solid, science-based plan that is already in place to clean up all the rivers and streams in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. And St. Mary’s County is surrounded by waters designated as impaired by pollution, including the lower Potomac, the lower Patuxent and the Chesapeake Bay.
Experts have known for some time that the Conowingo Dam is losing its ability to trap sediment and phosphorus pollution. Maryland and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are studying possible solutions to restore the capacity.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation believes Pennsylvania needs to accelerate its efforts to reduce water pollution before it even reaches the Conowingo Dam and that the dam’s owner, Excelon, needs to play a role in finding solutions for the dam’s dwindling capacity.
But Maryland counties should not use this as an excuse to avoid their own cleanup responsibilities, as outlined in the blueprint for cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay.
From our conversations with county leaders throughout Maryland, we know that their concern is the projected cost of implementing the pollution-reduction strategies that will lead to clean water. These concerns are legitimate, but we believe solutions exist, or are on the horizon.
Initial cost estimates were high, but these projections already are dropping in many jurisdictions. For example, a year ago Frederick County estimated it might have to spend as much as $4.3 billion to reduce polluted runoff. An outside expert then estimated $2.3 billion. That number dropped to $1.5 billion when the state provided better information to the county about techniques it would allow. We believe costs could continue to drop significantly there.
The same thing could happen in St. Mary’s through innovation and creative financing, among other strategies.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation is actively working with counties to tackle the cost issue, and recently co-hosted, with the Maryland Association of Counties, a day-long seminar on innovative financing opportunities. We are eager to work with county leaders throughout Maryland to advance creative funding solutions.
Finally with respect to cost, counties will not be expected to foot the entire bill. State and federal dollars can help fund pollution reduction activities. CBF and others will advocate for increases.
We ask the new coalition of Maryland counties to join us in these efforts, and also to consider ways it can actively support—rather than disparage—the baywide cleanup blueprint.
Ultimately, that plan is our best hope for cleaning up the Bay that we all depend on, and we will all have a stake in its restoration. If we follow that Blueprint the oysters, crabs and other aquatic life will rebound, our economy will surge, and we will leave clean water for our children and grandchildren.
CBF's Maryland Executive Director