CBF: Localities Making Progress in Implementing Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint

By Alison Prost

How heartening it’s been recently to watch many Maryland localities start to put their minds and shoulders into the difficult but critical work of finishing the restoration of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.

Knowing full well that restoring clean water is neither easy nor inexpensive, officials in many counties and towns throughout Maryland are rolling up their sleeves. They’ve found or are exploring ways to implement their share of the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. The Blueprint is the regional agreement by six states and the District of Columbia to reduce pollution sufficiently to make the Chesapeake safe for swimming and fishing.

Howard, Anne Arundel and Harford counties and Baltimore City are considering fees that would be dedicated just to reducing polluted runoff. Currently, residents throughout Maryland are advised not to swim in local creeks, rivers and the Bay for two days after a summer thunderstorm due to the pollution that runs off the land. These localities realize investing in a solution now will pay off later.

The small town of Berlin on the Eastern Shore already has approved a similar fee. Berlin officials said upgrading the town’s inadequate storm water system will help reduce flooding and clean up local creeks.

Harford County recently adopted a “tier map” for future growth that preserves farms and forest, but still allows enough room for development. Without this sort of managed growth, new development in Maryland will add more pollution to our water, and cancel out all our current expenditures and efforts. For instance, Maryland has spent $40 million to retrofit existing septic systems that discharge nitrogen pollution, yet all that money and work has been completely negated by the installation of new septic systems over the same period throughout rural areas, according to the Maryland Department of Planning.

Localities and individuals outside Maryland also are pulling their weight. Lancaster, PA vowed to become “a big green sponge” for runoff pollution by making over the city with “green infrastructure.” About 50 Amish farmers in Lancaster County are fencing their cows out of streams, and implementing other conservation measures. Charlottesville, VA just approved a storm water fee. Everyone is sacrificing something: money, a strip of valuable farmland, something. But so too will everyone get something in return: cleaner water.

Innovations also are emerging to reduce costs. Falls Church, VA figured out how to reduce by 60 percent its initial cost estimates to upgrade its storm water system. Talbot County launched a pilot program to use existing farm and street ditches to reduce pollution. That idea could save tens of millions of dollars from initial county cost estimates.

And just as heartening is the outpouring of support for such efforts from citizens around the state.

“We care about what happens to God’s creation. We care about unemployment in Howard County, and we care about our youth,” said the Rev. Robert Turner, senior pastor of St. John Baptist Church in Columbia, to the Howard County Council recently.

Turner and about 100 residents who belong to People Acting Together in Howard voiced support for the county’s proposed storm water fee, saying it will reduce both pollution and unemployment.

“Like most county residents, I do not like the thought of paying new taxes or fees,” fisherman John Veil recently told the Anne Arundel County Council in support of a similar fee there. “At the same time, some problems will not be adequately addressed in the absence of a funding source.”

But some localities still won’t come to the table, preferring to criticize rather than cooperate, or to continue to look for a single solution rather than the regional approach which is the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint.

But here, too, residents are pushing these localities to do the right thing.

Over on the Eastern Shore, former Republican Congressman Wayne Gilchrest spoke up in Cecil County recently against the county’s proposed plan to allow large subdivisions to sprawl throughout most of the remaining rural and agricultural areas of Cecil. It’s precisely this sort of unmanaged development that is fouling local creeks throughout Maryland, and contributing to water quality problems in the Chesapeake.

This groundswell of support for the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint and the quiet but resolute efforts of many localities throughout Maryland to implement the plan reaffirm my confidence we can finish the job of restoring the Bay.

Alison Prost is the Maryland Executive Director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.