Today, CBF released a new report on the subject, "Polluted Runoff: How Investing in Runoff Pollution Cotrol Systems Improves the Chesapeake Bay Region's Ecology, Economy, and Health."
Polluted runoff erodes stream banks, floods homes and roads, fouls local waterways, contaminates drinking water supplies, and makes us sick. The good news is that in Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, legislation has been passed to address polluted runoff and to reduce the damage it leaves in its wake.
The bad news is that, particularly in Maryland and Virginia, opponents of pollution control regulations are fighting to turn back progress. Some have launched a focused effort to confuse the public’s understanding and derail any discussion of solutions. Other critics are exaggerating costs.
It does not have to be this way. Polluted runoff is a local problem begging local solutions and promising local benefits, and the states can help, too.
To explain the need for runoff pollution control systems and debunk falsehoods being spread by opponents, CBF released its new report, "Polluted Runoff." This report reveals that runoff pollution is a growing problem because development spreads parking lots, roofs, and other hardened surfaces across at least 10,000 acres of fields and forests each year in the Chesapeake Bay region. That’s a piece of land the size of Washington DC blacktopped every four years. That spread of pavement creates a growing problem because it is on top of the already vast amount of pavement and rooftops in already developed areas.
“The problems are large, but not insurmountable,” said Will Baker, President of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said during a press conference in Annapolis to release the report. “The progress being made to reduce pollution from agriculture and sewage treatment plants has demonstrated that progress can be made when businesses, governments, and individuals work together. That model must now be applied to reducing pollution from urban and suburban runoff.”
Runoff from developed lands collects an often toxic mix of pollutants including trash, oil, dirt, nitrogen, phosphorus, sediment, herbicides, pesticides, fecal bacteria from pet waste, and even toxic metals like copper dust from the brake pads of cars, as well as lead, zinc, chromium, and cadmium.
“What we do on land goes right into a storm drain and then right into our sources of drinking water and the places where we recreate,” Richard Batiuk, an associate director of the EPA Chesapeake Bay Program, says in the CBF report. “People always think, ‘once it disappears, it’s okay.’ No, it stays around and it comes back and bites you, either through your faucet or an inability to have a meal of rockﬁsh or crabs.”
Here are some of the findings in the CBF report:
• At least 2,590 miles of streams in Maryland, and 2,451 miles in Pennsylvania, are so polluted from suburban and urban runoff that they are legally “impaired” under the federal Clean Water Act.
• Runoff is the leading known cause of high bacteria levels that trigger beach closings, no-swimming advisories, and health-related closures of oyster and shellfish beds.
• State stormwater pollution control permits are outdated and weak for 10 of 11 of Virginia’s largest local governments. In Maryland, the state pollution control permits are out of date for six out of the state’s 10 largest jurisdictions, and the permits for the other four lack measurable and enforceable limits.
The good news is that runoff pollution control fees and projects can bring a return to local economies of up to 1.7 times the investment. A recent report by the University of Maryland Environmental Finance Center found that each $100 million invested in Lynchburg, Virginia, produces $174 million for the local economy and supports the jobs of 1,440 local Workers. In Anne Arundel County, Maryland, the same investment produces $115 million and supports the jobs of 780 workers.
"Stormwater control investments will not only benefit local water quality, but also contribute to the local economy," said Joanne Throwe, Director of the University of Maryland Environmental Finance Center, during the press conference yesterday.
Adam Ortiz, Acting Director of the Department of Environmental Resources for Prince George's County, said that his county expects to create about 5,000 local jobs building projects to filter stormwater running off 8,000 acres of blacktop.
"This is our revitalization effort that compliments all of our economic development efforts," said Ortiz.
Prince George's County is creating a public-private partnership (a private company whose board is appointed by the county government and private investors) to build stormwater pollution control projects more efficiently. The county expects to save about 40 percent by using this alternative strategy.
Home owners in Prince George's County pay, on average, about $3 per month in stormwater control fees. Residents, businesses, and nonprofits (like churches) can also take steps to reduce their fees by controlling runoff from their properties.
"This money is going to be spent in our own neighborhoods," Ortiz said.
It's an example of the environment and the economy being two sides of the same coin.
By Tom Pelton
Chesapeake Bay Foundation