The Cost of Doing Nothing to Clean Up County Water

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The following first appeared in the
Frederick News-Post.

As Frederick County leaders reportedly negotiate with the state how much they should have to comply with state and federal clean water requirements ("County asks state not to mandate stormwater costs exceeding $47M"� Oct. 1), consider a few facts:

  • After a modest rainstorm in September, the water of Carroll Creek where it runs through Baker Park had an average bacteria reading more than 300 times higher than the safe limit for swimming established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The creek isn't used for swimming but the reading was an indication of how foul it was after the storm.

  • Carroll Creek and other small streams that feed the Lower Monocacy were first officially identified as impaired for bacteria in 2009, based on water tests conducted in 2002-2003. Investigators found bacteria in Carroll and other creeks was coming from local livestock manure, and from local waste from pets, humans, and wildlife. The provisions of the federal Clean Water Act of 1972 mandated a clean-up plan.  

  • In its negotiations, county leaders have proposed reducing pollution runoff during the next five years on about one-fourth the acres that the state requires, according to the News-Post article.  

I understand the obstacles the county faces in trying to clean up its local water. Once creeks are polluted it's expensive to clean them up. The county has estimated it would cost $462 per year per household to reduce polluted urban runoff to county creeks and rivers to the extent proposed by the state. And that wouldn't include potential changes farmers would have to make to prevent manure from reaching nearby creeks, or upgrades to small sewage plants. These estimates are likely to come down with innovation and by looking more carefully at the most cost-effective best management practices. Still, cost is a serious issue.

But discussing clean-up costs without also discussing economic benefits of that action is a one-sided conversation. A recent study indicates that investing in clean-up measures is like investing in a boom stock market.

A peer-reviewed study by Dr. Spencer Phillips of Key-Log Economics, and Dr. Beth McGee of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation found that cleaning up the region's creeks, rivers and the Chesapeake Bay would yield an additional $20 billion per year in economic benefits to the region, $4.6 billion to Maryland a year.  

From filtering our drinking waters to producing our food and protecting us from expensive flooding and hurricanes, many of the benefits nature provides to us can be quantified economically. And improving the environment also adds to our economy. Fence a cow out of a stream and you not only prevent manure pollution, you also improve the health of your herd, and lower your veterinarian costs. Install garden-like areas called bioswales in key city drainage areas, and you not only filter polluted runoff, you reduce harmful flooding and increase real estate values. The list of win-win scenarios goes on.

The study by Phillips and McGee also concluded that the region stands to lose $6 billion annually in economic benefits if it opts to do little or nothing new to clean up its polluted creeks, rivers and the Chesapeake Bay.

Consider the benefit of doing the maximum possible in Frederick County to reduce the county's polluted runoff. That effort would not only clean up nutrients and sediments that make Frederick creeks unfit for trout and other marine life, but also bacteria that threatens human health. Consider the impact of doing less. What is the cost to the county's health, pride and general economic development of local streams that carry toilet water?  

We hope county leaders and residents keep all these factors in mind as they negotiate compliance with cleaning up their local waters. 

--Alison Prost, CBF's Maryland Executive Director

Issues in this Post

Community   Conservation   Polluted Runoff   CBF in Maryland  

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