CBF: Septic Bill Science is 'Unparalleled'

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CBF: Septic Bill Science is 'Unparalleled'

Leonardtown, MD - 11/23/2012

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By Dick Myers

St. Mary’s County Commissioner Daniel Morris (R: 2nd) has been repeatedly asking a rhetorical question about the state’s Septic Bill: “Where’s the science?” When he once again asked the question at Tuesday’s commissioners’ meeting he had a scientist in front of him to respond. Senior Scientist for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) Beth McGee told the commissioners: “The science is really unparalleled.”

The Bay counties are being required to create a four-tier land-use system by the end of the year in which Tier 4 severely restricts development on septic systems. There is a state-wide effort underway to derail that initiative based on the contention that the science pointing the finger at septic systems is faulty. The effort called the TMDL (Total Maximum Daily Load) Coalition was initiated by Dorchester County on the Eastern Shore and the Baltimore law firm of Funk and Bolton. Counties are being asked to pony up $25,000 each towards the effort. St. Mary’s has not yet decided.

St. Mary’s County has sent its tier maps to the state that show that development rights will be lost on more than a thousand pieces of property in Tier 4. Although those maps haven’t been formally approved, the county’s effort coordinated by the Department of Land Use and Growth Management has been heralded as being one of the best so far in the state.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation in urging the county to stay the course and not be derailed by what they call the “inaccurate and misleading” effort of the TMDL Coalition. A letter to the commissioners dated Nov. 16 from CBF Executive Director Alison Prost said, “Perhaps what is important to citizens of Saint Mary’s County, and neglected by the efforts of the TMDL Coalition, is the extremely poor quality of some local waters. For instance, the Lower Patuxent and Lower Potomac rivers and Breton Bay are ‘impaired’ (polluted) from nutrients and/or sediment, according to the Maryland Department of the Environment.”

The TMDL coalition blames the state of the Bay on runoff created in Pennsylvania and entering the head of the Bay at the Susquehanna River. The foundation says the coalition misstates the impact of the river on the Bay and in any event it is not impacting the water quality of tributaries such as the Patuxent and Potomac. McGee did say that sediment behind the Conowingo Dam where the river meets the Bay is building up and will have to be addressed, but she assured Commissioner President Francis “Jack” Russell (D) that it is not spilling over.

Prost’s letter to the commissioners blames the Susquehanna for only a portion of the problem: “Pollution from the Susquehanna River is significant: about 41 percent of the nitrogen pollution entering the Bay, for instance. But that means nearly 60 percent comes from other tributaries and sources.”

McGee told the commissioners. “You have incredible natural resources down here,” and she urged the commissioners to continue a local effort to protect it. She told Morris that sampling in St. Mary’s River supports the Septic Bill contention that septics are at least a part of the problem. “I would be interested in hard science versus your assumptions,” Morris countered. She said she would provide the county with the data.

Commissioner Lawrence Jarboe (R: 3rd) blamed the Bay’s pollution problem on the demise of filtering mechanisms, most notably oysters and menhaden. McGee didn’t disagree with Jarboe, but said it is CBF’s belief that all sources of pollution to the Bay need to be addressed, including nutrients from septic systems. “Our perspective is that we will need to do it all.”

McGee acknowledged that fixing the septic pollution problem will be costly. The estimate of the cost just for St. Mary’s County is $176 million. McKee said CBF is continuing its effort in Washington to identify funding sources for the fix.

Pointing to the TMDL Coalition’s call for delay in implementation of the Septic Bill and doing more research, Prost’s letter said, “In fact it is irresponsible and could lead to years of futile and costly litigation while local water quality continues to decline. Instead, we ask you to consider working with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, your local watershed groups or the many other agencies and organizations that are working actively to find cost-effective solutions to reduce pollution. Why waste precious county dollars on research that will duplicate research already completed or underway.”

Chesapeake Bay Foundation is the Bay’s largest advocacy group. For more information go to their website: http://www.cbf.org/

The Bay Net was not able to find a website for the TMDL Coalition.

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