In a Frederick NEws Post letter to the editor the Chesapeake Bay Foundation supports the rain tax…
Posted: Friday, May 10, 2013 2:00 am
More pollution goes into Frederick County creeks and rivers than into the waters of any other county in Maryland, according to Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) data. About 20 percent of that comes from storm water — a swill of dog feces, lawn fertilizer, oil and gasoline residue and water that flashes off streets and parking lots when it rains.
This type of pollution is the only source of water pollution increasing in the region, especially in growing counties such as Frederick. Farmers, sewage plants and other sources are discharging less pollution than years past.
Frederick understands the value of investing in streets, water filtration plants and sewage plants. But some county officials don’t seem to want to invest in another county utility: the system of ponds, pipes and culverts that drains its landscape. As a result the antiquated system gets more expensive to upgrade each year, like a leaking roof we refuse to patch.
Contrary to a recent News-Post editorial there are no storm water “plants” that treat polluted runoff as there are plants to treat sewage. The polluted runoff mostly goes into a storm drain and straight into local creeks.
How polluted is Frederick County? The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and MDE have declared most of the waters of the county officially “impaired,” including the Monocacy River, Double Pipe Creek and Catoctin Creek. Residents are cautioned not to come into contact with the water for a full 48 hours after a summer thunderstorm. How’s that work for convincing businesses to relocate to Frederick County?
This isn’t a new problem. But there is a new urgency to fix it. In fact, soon Frederick and other Maryland counties will receive new storm water permits under the federal Clean Water Act that require them to do a better job.
How to pay for it? About 1,300 jurisdictions around the country have approved some form of “storm water utility fee,” determining such fees to be the fairest and most efficient way to address this problem.
Despite popular rhetoric, these fees aren’t “rain taxes” but a fair assessment on polluters (you and me) that pays for a service the county provides. It’s fixing our parking lots, streets, driveways and other surfaces that turn rain into toxic soup.
The benefits would be substantial. In Anne Arundel County where county commissioners have approved a storm water fee, for example, the University of Maryland Environmental Finance Center estimates that for every $100 million the county invests in improvements, the county will gain $220 million in economic benefits and almost 800 jobs.
By state law, Frederick can decide how much of a utility fee it wants to raise from each resident and business to begin to meet its responsibilities. Unfortunately, Frederick County Commissioners have decided their constituents can live with dirty water. They have said they will collect only 1 cent from each resident for the job. That ploy might make for a fine protest, but Frederick County will get what it pays for — likely continued unhealthy water and flooded basements. And an ever larger bill to be paid by the children and grandchildren of the county.
is Maryland executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation