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Polluted Runoff: Be the Solution

20140812_161510Photo by John Long.

Tuesday's rain brought with it pleasant temperatures and good coffee-break conversation, but what else did it usher into Maryland?

While our farms, lawns, and flowers welcomed the rain after many dry days, water rushing through our neighborhoods and into our creeks, rivers, and local swimming holes ushered in a mess in Anne Arundel County's Cox and Furnace Creeks. Sewage overflows caused by uncontrolled polluted runoff triggered emergency closures of both creeks for the next week. Not so welcome.

Satellite photos of the Bay's watershed on August 13 show how Maryland's headwaters are clouded by all the sediment and nutrients that enter our waters when we get downpours like Tuesday's. Not to mention the pet waste, lawn fertilizer, oil, and grease that has built up on the local landscape since our last rain. Downhill and into the Bay it goes—unless such polluted runoff can be slowed down by improved farm, urban, and residential management practices.

The good news is that we have a science-based solution—the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint—to reduce all the nasty pollution that enters our streams, creeks, and ultimately the Bay. We all have a role to play in the Blueprint—there's no single boogie-man we can point a finger at and expect the problem to go away.

Whether we're in Western Maryland, the Lower Eastern Shore, or everywhere in between, we can be a part of this solution. That means putting best management practices on the ground—even in our own backyards!—to slow polluted runoff so it can be stripped of pollution before flowing into our creeks and rivers, pushing for changes to our agricultural systems to prevent nutrients running off farm fields, and demanding that our state protects and adds more trees as natural filters to our urban and suburban landscape.

So on your next coffee break, start talking about the solution. Just like the Chesapeake watershed, you're part of it!

 —CBF's Maryland Office

Click here for ways that YOU can be a part of the solution, not the problem.



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Good piece. But why no mention of the 3+ MILLION gallons of raw sewage spilled into the Patapsco from Baltimore City's sewage treatment (hah!) system, and the very belated health warning from city officials?

The volume of the Baltimore spill is an order of magnitude greater--and the warning significantly later--than the spills featured here. Maybe an update is in order? Or perhaps CBF, like the City of Baltimore, MD Dept of Environment, and EPA, prefers to look the other way as these ongoing "accidental" spills turn the Patapsco River--and ultimately the Chespaeake Bay--into little more than an open sewer?

Chesapeake Bay Foundation

Thanks for reaching out. We are just as concerned about sewage spills in Baltimore City, Baltimore County, and other areas of the state when they occur as we are with Anne Arundel County spills.

We had not learned of the Baltimore spills at the time of posting the above blog. That said, Baltimore City has made significant strides fixing its ancient sewer system and fixing at least 60 areas known to leak during storms. In fact, thanks to the Bay Restoration Fund, both the Patapsco and Back River wastewater treatment plants are in the process of being upgraded to the state-of-the-art standard and should be completed by August of 2015. There is still much work underway, including major improvements to the city’s large sewage plants. We trust the city will continue this good work, but we remain concerned.

Data on these spills is not always reliable. And as we saw last week, major storms still seem to send large amounts of untreated or partially treated sewage into city waters. The Inner Harbor and other city waters can’t be cleaned if the city doesn't comply with a federally-mandated reduction of sewer spills.

And since you rightfully put the Anne Arundel spills into perspective, let’s remember, too, that harmful as sewer spills can be to local waters, especially short term, they pale in comparison to other pollution sources. Believe it or not, the Chesapeake and its tributaries still receive far more harmful pollution from permitted sewer system effluent, farms, and other sources.

For more information, please visit our website:


What planet do you live on?

"Significant strides" + "Good work" = 12 million gallons of sewage spilled into the Patapsco River

Sure would hate to see what CBF considers doing way too little, way too slowly. Perhaps we need to be able to WALK across the Patapsco on solid sludge before CBF gets alarmed about conditions in our urban watershed, which--believe it or not--actually does feed into the Chesapeake Bay.

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