The Frederick News-Post stated in a reasonable editorial ("Cost of the bay," Sept. 7) that farmers and developers need to hear stronger and more compelling economic arguments for saving the Chesapeake Bay.
Clean water is a common good, so any economic argument should consider benefits to farmers and builders, but also to the whole community. Here are a few of those arguments.
First, the effort to reduce water pollution in the 64,000-square-mile Chesapeake Bay watershed benefits not just the main part of the bay, but all tributary creeks and rivers, including those in Frederick County, which are badly polluted. The Lower Monocacy River watershed, for instance, contains some of the most polluted waters in the multi-state region.
This problem will continue to get worse as the county continues its dramatic growth. Without changes from developers, for instance, Frederick County is expected to discharge more nitrogen pollution into its local water from new homes on septics than any county in the state over the next 25 years. This is a local problem, requiring a local solution. If the county opts out of this effort, it not only hurts those downstream, but also threatens the safety of local drinking water, the health of children and the county's economic vitality.
Second, history tells us the actual cost of this cleanup will be much lower than the perceived cost. In fact, the cost will be highest if we do nothing or wait for it to be cheaper. Technologies for cleaning our water are like any other; they will get cheaper as we scale up their use. That will be as true with septic or stormwater systems as it was with computers and televisions.
Investing in smart pollution reduction now will yield windfalls later. For example, installing stormwater pollution control technologies alone will produce 36,000 full-time jobs over the next five years in Maryland, according to the Economic Policy Institute. Montgomery County already is adding 3,300 jobs for that type of work. That's a compelling economic argument to the unemployed construction worker.
Third, while Maryland has been a leader in reducing pollution, other states are now stepping up precisely because of the new, tougher plan for reducing pollution.
Here's a sample of what Pennsylvania has achieved in the past two years, taken from a recent Chesapeake Bay Journal account of the state's record in meeting its short-term cleanup commitments:
- For wastewater, the state met its nitrogen reduction goal, and exceeded its phosphorus goal. It actually achieved its 2025 reduction goal for phosphorus reductions from wastewater.
- For urban/suburban lands, it slightly exceeded its goal of connecting 7,353 septic systems to sewer systems.
- For agriculture, it more than doubled its goal of planting 19,059 acres of forest buffers.
Do we really expect Pennsylvania will continue its efforts if Maryland or other states step to the sidelines? All states agreed to specific pollution limits for the region, and have crafted their own blueprints for reaching those goals, precisely because there is a renewed sense of urgency and unity, but also because of real accountability.
Let's continue to lead, not break ranks. Watershed-wide, we are more than halfway to our goals of reducing pollution. If we can finish the job, the entire region stands to gain economically. One dollar of water and sewer infrastructure investment, for instance, increases private output (gross domestic product) in the long term by $6.35, according to a 2008 report by the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
Finally, are we saying clean water has value measured only in dollars and cents? Tell that to a fly fisherman on a peaceful bend of a babbling creek as the mist rises one spring morning. Are we not stewards of the earth for future generations?
Let's all of us continue to discuss and debate this subject of clean water. I believe the more we know, the more we'll agree the effort is worthwhile.
--Alison Prost, Maryland Executive Director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation