Saving the Bay, One Septic Upgrade at a Time

Mom beach photo[2] My friend recently bought a house in Arnold, a small cottage overlooking the Severn with an amazing view. When she was told she'd have to upgrade the house's septic system to comply with state law she winced because it is expensive work. But mostly she got angry because of something else.

 "I'm willing to do my part but government has to do its part,"� she said. She explained what she meant: Government fails to penalize polluters equally. Right now, some pay . . . and some don't. And whether we like it or not, we're all polluters.

That's why CBF has joined with 14 other environmental groups in Maryland to launch the Clean Water, Healthy Families (CWHF) campaign to support a fair and equal way to invest in and to achieve safer, cleaner water for everyone. 

We have made tremendous progress from the days when all sewage and farm manure were dumped straight into our local creeks. The Chesapeake Bay Program estimates we're more than half way to clean-up goals set two decades ago. But we must finish the job.

The good news is state and local governments already are doing a lot of the work. As we speak they are pin-pointing exactly where the remaining pollution comes from in all 23 counties and in Baltimore City, and identifying the most cost-effective means of reducing pollution suited to that specific area. They also are deciding the cost of reducing each of these pollution sources.

The CWHF campaign is critical, however, to ensure these governments finish the job--actually make our water cleaner. Here's the rub: We'll need to finish upgrading sewage treatment plants and reduce the amount of polluted runoff coming from our streets, septic systems, lawns, and rooftops. But we must find the money to do that, and the political fortitude to stand firm when the bill arrives. That will be challenging in tough economic times.

But it's fair. My friend is shelling out $16,000 to upgrade her septic system. Meanwhile, thousands of other septic systems in her county are discharging nutrient pollution, yet are not required to be upgraded because they are further from tidal water (in fact, newer, more polluting septic systems are put in throughout Maryland every day). Anne Arundel County has a plan to address this problem, but it will cost money.

Environmental groups in the CWHF campaign believe Maryland as well as local governments will need to raise additional public revenue to invest in these sorts of solutions for the future. We also believe that money should be dedicated only to water pollution reduction, with local governments held accountable for success. If we do our part, government must do its part. We deserve tangible, measurable results.

This summer presented us with glaring examples of why we need these solutions so desperately. The newspapers and televisions were full of stories about beaches closed because of high bacteria counts, people infected from water-borne pathogens, flooding, the largest dead zone ever in the Bay, sewage overflows, etc. Much of that is the result of what we have done to the landscape as we develop our towns and cities. We pave natural areas. We install septic systems, and sewage plants. Air pollution (which becomes water pollution, too) increases as we drive further and further to work.

The good news is these aren't new problems, and by and large we know how to fix them. 

 But slowing and filtering rain from a thunderstorm is no easy or cheap exercise, nor is reducing the amount of nutrients flowing from a sewage outfall pipe. These are major undertakings which for too long have been put off--to our own detriment.

By investing in better sewage plants, infrastructure for treating run-off, and alternatives to septic systems, among other measures, we will benefit enormously in jobs, long-term savings and most important, in healthier water for our children.

--Tom Zolper


Emmy Nicklin

Issues in this Post

Community   Conservation   Volunteers   CBF in Maryland  



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