The following first appeared in The Star Democrat last week.
We agree with your editorial ("Stacked deck at Bay hearing," May 9), that collaboration is critical to cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay. But, we believe at this point elected officials from some Eastern Shore counties should focus on collaboration that cleans up their local water.
On May 5, U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., led a field hearing of the Subcommittee on Water and Wildlife held at the Conowingo Dam. The hearing was to establish the facts concerning sediment and phosphorus coming through the dam during major storms.
The dam has been the center of controversy over the past year. The Clean Chesapeake Coalition has suggested the dam is a primary source of pollution to the Bay. The Bay's cleanup, coalition officials suggested, should be focused there, rather than on local cleanup measures that they say come with high cost estimates.
Cardin assembled technical experts to get at the facts, officials from: the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Maryland Department of Environment, Maryland Department of Natural Resources, and the Center for Environmental Science at the University of Maryland. They were unanimous in their findings: sediment backing up behind the dam is still an issue, but not nearly as troubling as new pollution entering the Bay from upstream on the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania, and from every local farm, lawn, and city street throughout the Bay watershed. The hearing confirmed that the most cost-effective means of restoring the Bay is local effort throughout the Bay watershed.
Rick Gray, mayor of Lancaster, Pa., testified how his city is reducing pollution to the Susquehanna with innovative and common sense strategies. But many Maryland governments are making similar efforts, rolling up their sleeves to find solutions at reasonable costs. Those final costs come in far lower than original estimates.
Talbot County, for instance, is collaborating with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF), The Nature Conservancy, farmers, landowners, and others on an innovative idea to convert existing farm and roadside ditches into pollution filters. The county believes the idea could cut its estimated water cleanup costs by tens of millions of dollars.
CBF also is working with Queen Anne's County on a pilot program to use private funding to reduce that county's costs. Cities such as Salisbury, Oxford, and Berlin on the Eastern Shore have been collaborating with the Environmental Finance Center at the University of Maryland, and various agencies and organizations, to find ways to bring down their estimated clean-up costs.
Now it's time for some other Eastern Shore counties to join in this type of collaboration.
Abstract cost estimates can't justify inaction. In fact, those estimates come down precisely when officials swing into action. Actual implementation of the cleanup is proving much cheaper than the estimates.
Meanwhile, Clean Chesapeake Coalition lawyers can help keep pressure on the owner of the Conowingo Dam, Exelon Corporation, to ensure it does its part to reduce Susquehanna pollution. CBF and many other groups are doing just that. But everyone should have a role. There's no magic bullet to cleaning up the Bay. There's no one villain. We all must increase our efforts.
Local action will bring local benefits: water finally safe for swimming and fishing, more oysters, crabs and fish, resurgent seafood and recreational industries, and best of all, a legacy of a restored Bay to pass to our children and grandchildren.
--Alan Girard, CBF's Director of Eastern Shore of Maryland