- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
While we may have been in a year-long deficit for rainfall, Hurricane Sandy was not what the doctor ordered. Between 6 and 9 inches of rain fell throughout St. Mary’s County, most of it coming in a 14-hour period on Monday, Oct. 29. Heavy runoff from this event caused streams to bulge and rushing waters eroded streambeds and banks, sending a heavy dose of pollution into our waterways.
The St. Mary’s River takes an extra beating in events such as Sandy since this watershed is home to the county’s commercial district — an area with lots of parking lots, rooftops and roadways. Runoff is vigilantly collected by curbs, gutters and storm sewers sending it ever faster, and in greater quantities, into the St. Mary’s River. We can do better. With industry-known practices, one-third of this rainfall could have been infiltrated into the ground, thus resupplying our water table, which just happens to be low due to the dry weather over the past several months and remains low even after Sandy. Much of the bulge and erosion in streams could have been avoided.
Likewise, it is essential that we continue to advance our municipal sewage systems. Last Monday, three sewer lines failed in Lexington Park, causing at least 150,000 gallons of raw sewage to flow into our waterways. The St. Mary’s County Metropolitan Commission is dedicated to upgrading its system in order to halt storm-related overflows. Obviously more work needs to be done ASAP.
We all suffer because county policy supports business as usual. Our leaders look for ways to cut costs for developers, businesses and municipal infrastructure. The price we are paying is too high. State and federal mandates now require the county to retrofit older developments with stormwater controls, to limit new septic systems and to increase public sewer service areas.
As we reflect on the cost of Hurricane Sandy, let’s remember that our runoff from hard surfaces, our sewer overflows, and our predominance of septic systems have compounded the cost and are the underlying problem. Ask your neighborhood waterman. He could not harvest shellfish for six days due to the heavy pollution loads from Hurricane Sandy. He knows the true cost.
Patricia Samford, Lexington Park
The writer is vice president of the St. Mary’s River Watershed Association.