Virginia Runoff Bill Fatally Flawed
Saving Shells, Saving the Bay

"The Unpalatable Truth" about the Chesapeake Bay

Polluted water Tiffany Granberg CBFThe Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s most recent report, Polluted Runoff, inspired coverage by 25 newspapers, TV stations, and radio stations across the region.  The intent of the report's release during a press converence in Annapolis last week was to inform state legislators and the general public about the only major source of water pollution that is increasing in the Bay and its tributaries.

Lawmakers in Maryland and Virginia are right now considering bills that would overturn or undermine important runoff pollution control laws and regulations.  Hopefully, the facts, figures, and water pollution experts cited in the report will advance understanding of why it is critical to invest in runoff pollution control systems.

An especially encouraging editorial about CBF's report was published in The Annapolis Capital.  The editorial described the conclusions of “Polluted Runoff” as being an “unpalatable truth” that the public nonetheless needs to hear, perhaps making a reference to the “Inconvenient Truth” of climate change.

Here is The Capital’s editorial:

…………………….

Our say: On stormwater, the unpalatable truth is out there

Environmental groups are often telling people what they don’t want to hear. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation is in that position when it comes to the effect of stormwater runoff, and has just tried again with a report calling runoff pollution “a growing threat” to the bay.

We wish the organization luck. People need to hear this.

What many want to hear is that stormwater fees are the “rain tax,” a silly idea by a fee-happy government that hasn’t gotten around to a breathing tax yet. Most Marylanders don’t focus on what happens to water washing off their properties, or what’s in it, any more than they focus on what’s happening to the water going into the neighborhood sewer main. (Although when it comes to sewage disposal, they’re resigned to paying fees.)

In its latest report, the CBF estimates that 10,000 acres are paved in the six-state bay watershed every year — meaning that every four years an area roughly the size of Washington, D.C., goes from being water-absorbent fields and forests to runoff-prone roads, buildings and parking lots.

No wonder runoff is the only source of pollution in the watershed that is still increasing.

It’s not a freak of nature — or merely the fault of the poultry industry or silt running down the Susquehanna River — that heavy rainfalls are followed by soaring bacteria counts in local tributaries, that fish have tumors, or that in the open bay algae thrive on the nitrogen and phosphorus in the water, while the silt kills aquatic plants and undercuts state efforts to restore the oyster population.

Like other environmental groups, the CBF is striving to keep the General Assembly from an election-year retreat on the stormwater fee mandate it passed in 2012 — the reason Anne Arundel County’s officials, after years of procrastination, decided to enact such fees last year.

Last week House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. said they oppose any blanket repeal of the 2012 mandate. But there have been reports Miller is unhappy with the all-over-the-map way fees have been imposed, and might be open to a statewide cap, as well as mandatory exemptions for churches and nonprofits.

But shouldn’t there be some local leeway? And if Miller starts this legislative snowball running downhill in an election year, you could wind up with an avalanche that buries efforts to fund stormwater improvements. An effort to delay the mandate by two years was gaining momentum when the clock ran out on the last session.

The state stormwater mandate is hardly perfect. But the environmental groups would prefer the General Assembly not try to tweak it this year. And we can see why.

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To take action to protect Maryland's 2012 polluted runoff control law (which is under attack right now in the General Assembly), click here.

To take action to support runoff pollution control efforts in Virginia, click here.  And if you live in Pennsylvania and are concerned about the issue, click here

By Tom Pelton

Chesapeake Bay Foundation

 

Comments

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Isn't the real "unpalatable truth" that the bay region is over populated, and the impacts of that overpopulation are placing every more stress on the Chesapeake's ecosystem? Storm water fees are just one of the inevitable costs of extreme population density. As natural systems are destroyed and paved over, all of the free services they provide will have to be created, built and paid for by taxpayers.

Yes, human population growth is certainly a part of the problem with the Bay. But this population growth can either be a big problem, or a small and manageable problem.

Our communities can be built in a sprawling way that maximizes runoff pollution -- with lots of parking lots and roads that lack stormwater control systems -- or in a greener way that soaks up and filters this pollution.

Some additional pavement is necessary as our population grows, because our economy is dependent on cars and trucks. But we don't have to throw up our hands and say, "Well, this is just a population problem. If we don't solve that, we can't do anything."

We can take simple and basic steps to control runoff pollution, like making sure that all of our parking lots have rain gardens next to them to soak up and filter rain water. We can make sure that our new developments have lots of open spaces and trees that act like green sponges. We can collect the rain that runs off our rooftops, and then recycle it instead of allowing it to rush into our streams.

This is all a matter of smart planning for growth that is likely to occur whether we'd like it or not.

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