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Editorial: Cleaning up the Chesapeake takes efforts in Pennsylvania and Maryland

EDITORIAL FROM THE AEGIS

6:00 PM EST, January 1, 2013

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Just as one child tasked with room cleaning raises the point that a sibling's room also is a mess as a means of getting out of the work at hand, so Upper Eastern Shore State Sen. E.J. Pipkin has pointed out that Pennsylvania is a major source of nutrient pollution entering the Chesapeake Bay and further efforts in Maryland to limit such pollution are likely to have minimal effect.

His facts are spot on. Pennsylvania's efforts to prevent runoff from construction sites and farms are practically medieval compared to what Maryland has in place. The bay has benefited, to some extent as a result of massive amounts of such runoff building up in the impoundment behind Conowingo Dam, but big storms like Tropical Storm Lee in 2011 can wash years worth of nutrient pollution into the bay in a matter of a few days.

The result of such pollution is blooms of algae that die as quickly as they sprout, and whose rotting uses all the dissolved oxygen in the water. Fish kills and dead zones result.

In letters sent earlier this year to the heads of the Maryland Departments of Environment and Natural Resources, the senator expressed an often stated message, that Maryland's efforts to further curb nutrient pollution from sources like failing septic systems will have little impact so long as Pennsylvania continues its failure as an environmental steward.

The solution, at least according to Pipkin and those who share his view, is for Maryland to scale back such efforts so long as Pennsylvania remains the unapologetic source of pollution that it is.

It's an understandable sentiment, just as the lament of the child assigned to room cleaning is understandable.

The solution to what ails the Chesapeake Bay, however, is not for Maryland to do less, but for Maryland to demand that Pennsylvania do more.

Given that a substantial amount of the problem spewing forth from the Keystone State consists of animal waste run-off from farms that have failed to take up modern practices to limit the loss of valuable fertilizer, Maryland is in the unenviable situation of being downstream from where someone else is using the creek as a toilet. This irresponsible situation has been allowed to linger and, indeed, get worse for years, even as Maryland has been cleaning its room, so to speak. Pipkin and others in positions of responsibility in Maryland would do well to pursue more vigorous action against Pennsylvania.

Pipkin also is spot on in his assertion that Maryland and the EPA would do well to join forces and demand that the owners of Conowingo Dam remove the decades worth of sediment that has piled up behind the dam so it ceases posing a threat to the health of the Chesapeake Bay.

Where the senator loses the high ground, however, is in his belief that Maryland should cease being vigilant in curbing nutrient pollution until more action is taken elsewhere. The harsh reality is that the Chesapeake Bay needs all the help it can get, whether it is protection from a single failed septic system – or from the unfettered runoff from a high-density, hog-rearing operation.