Anne Arundel's Pollution Reduction Plans

Anne Arundel's Pollution Reduction Plans

Anne Arundel County is one of two Maryland counties taking the lead in determining what it is going to take to meet the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) pollution requirements mandated by the EPA to clean up the Chesapeake Bay.  As presented by the Department of Public Work’s (DPW) Ron Bowen to the Lower Western Shore Tributary Team in January, success is going to require a comprehensive approach with an eye-popping price tag for Anne Arundel alone of roughly $2.0 billion.

While plans continue to be revised, DPW is visualizing a three-pronged approach of upgrading wastewater treatment plants ($270 million), replacing half of the county’s 40,000+ septic systems with county sewer or cluster sewage treatment systems ($760 million), and spending $1.0 billion to fix degraded streambeds and stormwater drainage systems that dump tons of phosphorus-enriched soil into the Bay annually.  The price tag for all of Maryland remains to be calculated.

Whether this spending is spread over 15 years as the EPA requires or compressed into a 10-year timeframe to meet Governor O’Malley’s 2020 goal, it is going to be very difficult to raise the money necessary for success.  Hopefully the state and federal government will cover the majority of the cost, but in these times of severe budget shortfalls, it is clear that the citizens of Anne Arundel County are going to have to contribute to clean up our waterways.

And we should.  Having clean streams and rivers and a healthy Chesapeake Bay is integral to the quality of life in Anne Arundel County.  A good part of the reason we’re dealing with today’s beach closings, fish kills, and dead zones is that we didn’t follow through with the original plan to connect all neighborhoods in critical areas to public sewer or make the necessary investments to build appropriate stormwater runoff systems in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.  It is always more difficult and expensive to fix something later versus doing it right the first time, and we’re going to pay a steep price for our previous short-sightedness.

According to DPW, we get the biggest nitrogen-reduction bang for the buck by replacing septic systems in the Broadneck Peninsula and the Lake Shore, Pasadena and Crownsville areas with sewage treatment systems.  By converting these homes to sewer, we will reduce the amount of nitrogen that pollutes the Bay by almost 300,000 pounds per year.  If such an investment had been made forty years ago, our rivers would be much cleaner today.

Developing a funding mechanism that our taxpayers will support is going to be the biggest challenge.  New sewer customers should pay some portion of the sewer connection charge since they will no longer have to pay for upkeep and replacement of their septic systems.  However, it is unrealistic to expect them to pay the current estimate of $38,000 per household.  These homeowners have invested substantial monies to install septic systems which, in almost all cases, are still working today.  Requiring them to pay exorbitant costs for the common good is unfair.  

A second problem is that many homeowners won’t want to see their streets and lawns torn up to install sewer pipes, particularly if this is done without their enthusiastic support.  The county should focus first on those communities like Edgewater Beach which have been pleading for sewer access while it works to build homeowner support for sewer construction in other critical areas.

While restoring our rivers and the Bay to health will be extremely challenging, it can be done.  The people of Cleveland are now able to fish in the Cuyahoga River, which was once so polluted it caught on fire.   Success will require voter agreement to invest in making the world a better place for our children, homeowner willingness to put up with the mess and disruption of sewer installation, and courage on the part of our political leaders.  It’s time to get started.

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