The beautiful Chesapeake Bay and our many rivers are key reasons many of us choose to live in Anne Arundel County. Unfortunately, pollution has gotten so bad that dead zones incapable of supporting life cover more than 40% of the Bay during mid-summer, crab and oyster populations have been decimated, and some species of fish have become so full of toxins we’re warned not to eat them.
Anne Arundel County has been at the forefront of 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. The Department of Public Works recommends 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.
It is going to be very difficult to raise the money necessary for success. Hopefully the state and federal government will cover a lot 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 rivers.
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.
The Stormwater Restoration Fee passed by the County Council last year was designed to allow the county to start fixing some of the county's most severe stormwater runoff problems. This fee is deeply unpopular among many businesses and homeowners, and we may need to find other sources for these funds over time.
However, I think the most important thing we need to focus on today is making sure these hard-earned funds are used to cost-effectively fix stormwater runoff problems. The vast majority of these funds should be spent contracting with businesses and organizations experienced in stormwater remediation to implement innovative, cost-effective projects. Unfortunately, County Executive Neuman has earmarked millions of dollars of these funds each year to cover the costs of hiring 55 more employees in the Department of Public Works.
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. We owe it to ourselves and future generations to find the most cost-effective means to restore our rivers to health.