- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Charles County, along with every other county or city in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, has to come up with a plan to reduce the amount of pollutants flowing into the estuary and its rivers.
The county government did not file its Watershed Implementation Plan by the stateís July 1 deadline and instead has chosen to develop it over the course of the next several months. St. Maryís and Calvert have ďsubmittedĒ their plans to the state but the county governments there are not ďadoptingĒ them. Thatís because, according to officials, it would cost hundreds of millions of dollars to meet the goal for reducing the amount of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment flowing into the water by 2025.
So what happens if the counties donít follow through on plans to aid in the cleanup of the Chesapeake? Enforcement ultimately will be up to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA could withhold funding for counties and cities that donít cooperate.
Some local officials here and elsewhere object to this federal interference in their affairs. But letís look at how we got here.
In 2009 watermen, environmentalists, a former governor and a former state senator from Southern Maryland joined a lawsuit filed against the EPA for failing to enforce the Clean Water Act. To settle that lawsuit, in 2010 the EPA agreed to take on the responsibility of enforcing plans to clean up the bay.
Thatís the recent history. But go back to the 1970s to find out who came up with this idea to sue the federal government for not forcing cleanup of degraded waters.
Turns out that it was the boards of county commissioners in the tri-county at the time who sued the federal and state governments because of policies that allowed massive amounts of poorly treated sewage water to be dumped into a dying Patuxent River.
And it was scientists enlisted to support that lawsuit who helped establish that terrible damage was being done by nitrogen and phosphorus in sewer water, which feed unnatural algae blooms that decay and rob the water of oxygen.
A generation or so later, officials are grumbling that the cleanup goals, which now call for considerable sacrifice here, are unreasonable and might not work anyway. These officials are not alone. Counties throughout Maryland are balking at these costs and questioning the science.
These sound like the complaints of upstream counties back when Southern Maryland was suing to clean up the Patuxent.
Southern Maryland stands to benefit as much as anywhere from a revitalized Chesapeake. The EPAís involvement is intended to answer the perennial complaint that what we do here will have little effect on the overall health of the bay if large upstream counties donít do their part. The federal oversight is designed to make sure the rules are applied everywhere equally.
Government should not just to dig in its heels, but look for ways to begin to meet the goals in affordable and innovative ways. The aim should be trying to keep costs down, not just come up with cost estimates intended to show an unreasonable burden.
In the end, the value of having hundreds of miles of shoreline will be greatly diminished if the water surrounding us is largely dead.