- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
It should come as no surprise that meeting the requirements of the Watershed Implementation Plan and the total maximum daily loads of nutrients is going to cost a great deal of money. The jurisdictions that make up the Chesapeake Bay drainage area, stretching from here to New York state, have nearly destroyed the world’s largest and most productive estuary through ignorance and willful neglect. Correcting generations of mismanagement is not going to come easily or cheaply.
Piecemeal and voluntary efforts of the past decades failed to prevent the continuing strangulation of the bay. If we cannot implement this comprehensive strategy we will return to the blame-shifting and small-scale efforts of the past while the bay continues to deteriorate. The Watershed Implementation Plan might well be the last best hope for restoration of the bay.
The central strategy is to reduce the nutrient inputs that we know are most harmful to the waterways — nitrogen and phosphorus being the most significant. St. Mary’s County, like every jurisdiction in the six-state, 64,000-square-mile Chesapeake watershed, must reduce the amount of nitrogen and phosphorous it leaks into the bay system. Because of our development history the bulk of that reduction must occur in the treatment of human waste.
Since 1634 we have enjoyed our extensive water views and access, and much private profit and tax revenue has been gained by exploiting that resource. The St. Mary’s County government continued to allow new development into the critical areas long after we knew that such near-shore habitation was harmful to the environment. Now we must pay for our profligacy. We hope the county commissioners are devoting themselves to finding the funding that it will take to implement the plan. We hope they are willing to consider innovative or, if necessary, drastic measures. (It seemed like a missed opportunity recently when the commissioners moved, with surprising speed, to increase the permitted housing density of certain categories of land. This was a giveaway that could have had some revenue-generating potential.)
We hope the commissioners will not throw up their arms and say it’s too expensive before they have exhaustively examined all potential revenue sources; we live in one of the highest-income counties in the country, after all. We hope, too, that the commissioners will not try and use the “need for more study” sham of an argument. We know what we need to do to reduce nitrogen inputs to the bay watershed.
The Watershed Implementation Plan demands a lot from all of the residents, economic sectors and governments of the bay watershed. We hope the commissioners will recognize the need for bold action and get behind, or at least not grasp for ways to undermine, what might well be the last hope for a comprehensive solution to restoring our most prized resource.
Robert Elwood, Bushwood
The writer is president of the Potomac River Association.