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Chesapeake Bay's health said to be improving [Letter]

Editor:

A recent Aegis editorial about the health of the Chesapeake Bay ("Stormwater fee set low in Harford the best of a bad situation," April 23) is [off base]. Certainly the job of restoring the Bay is far from finished, but the Aegis is incorrect in asserting: "the degree to which the overall health of the bay has improved is hard to gauge."

Numerous recent reports from government agencies, and academic and non-profit researchers show significant improvements in the Bay. Most recently, the Chesapeake Bay Program (an arm of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) reported pollution from nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment were reduced by 25, 27 and 32 percent between July, 2009 and June, 2012 in the watershed, according to computer simulations.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation also reported recently that Bay health as judged by 13 different indicators from pollution reduction to habitat restoration to fisheries health improved 14 percent since 2009. The 2012 dead zone in the Bay was the second smallest since 1985.

And these positive signs come before Maryland's largest and most polluting sewage plants in the Baltimore-Washington area even have been upgraded (they are in design and construction phases now and are expected to come online in 2017). Pennsylvania and Virginia also have committed substantial sums to upgrade plants.

The editorial also fails to note it can take years, even decades, for an ecosystem such as the Chesapeake to fully respond after pollution is reduced. The pattern of the Bay's recovery likely will mirror its decline: a long period of slow change, and then a relatively sudden acceleration. Don Boesch, President of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, believes we could be at or near the "tipping point" when the Bay's health spikes upward.

What we've also realized over decades is comprehensive and collaborative efforts work best. When we all grab an oar we see the most progress in Bay restoration. In addition to progress at sewage plants, we're also seeing substantial pollution reductions on farms, and from power plants.

In fact, the only pollution source that is increasing is polluted runoff from our driveways, parking lots, roofs and other hard surfaces-so-called storm water pollution.

That's precisely the type of pollution Harford's storm water utility fee will address. The fee will help upgrade Harford's neglected storm water management system. We are hopeful in coming years county officials will set a suitable fee for this week (effectively set at $12.50 a year initially). With so many of Harford's local creeks and rivers polluted, including the Gunpowder, Bush, and Atkisson [sic] rivers, the county can't afford not to step up.

The more we can do the more we will all benefit, in terms of jobs (an estimated 180,000 jobs will be created in the watershed upgrading storm water systems), in clean water for drinking and recreation, and in the health of our children and grandchildren. The weaker our efforts, the dirtier the water remains, and the longer we must wait for the windfall of the Bay's full recovery.

Alison Prost

Maryland Executive Director, Chesapeake Bay Foundation

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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