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