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Clean water essential to good health

Maryland is fortunate to have many beautiful parks, rivers and streams, breathtaking views, delicious fish and shellfish and enjoyable recreational opportunities, from our nation's largest estuary to the snow-capped mountains in Western Maryland.

Throughout our history, we have not done enough to protect these treasures and the water that links them, allowing them to deteriorate and their ecosystems to suffer. Under Gov.Martin O'Malley's leadership, though, things have started to turn around. We are investing in efforts to improve our water quality and environmental health, setting goals for recovery through MDEStat and BayStat, and implementing plans that will ensure restored treasures for generations.

The action plan to save one of Maryland's most valuable assets, the Chesapeake Bay, is also critical to protecting our fresh water supply. Nothing is more important to our public health than a safe and adequate drinking water supply. We can go a month without eating — but only a couple days without clean, drinkable water.

Our state's leaders passed legislation this year that resulted in wins for the environment and our water quality. Last week, Governor O'Malley, with support from House Speaker Michael Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, signed legislation that doubles the Bay Restoration Fund, which supports upgrades to wastewater treatment plants, nitrogen-reducing technology for septic systems in critical areas, and planting of cover crops. These actions will drastically reduce nitrogen and phosphorus levels in the bay and its tributaries and ultimately will improve our water quality and enable us to meet our 2025 Chesapeake Bay pollution diet goals.

Another bill signed last week requires our largest jurisdictions to institute stormwater utility fees, which will be used to address stormwater pollution from our urban and suburban areas that is contributing to the degradation of water quality.

When stormwater from rain and melting snow runs over fertilizer, oil and gas, it results in groundwater contamination. Half the water we use for drinking water comes from groundwater. This is why we need to ensure that trees, meadow grasses and other natural areas intercept and absorb the harmful substances within stormwater before they contaminate our water.

Although the effect of one property might seem insignificant, when not treated, the total impact from 2 million acres across the state continues to impact our water quality. This year is the 40th anniversary of the signing of the Clean Water Act, a reminder for Marylanders to renew their commitment to ensuring safe and adequate drinking water. At the Maryland Department of the Environment, we continue to make investments and work aggressively toward this mission.

To succeed in restoring the bay, improving our water quality and protecting public health, Maryland government at all levels must work together to craft and implement effective strategies. An added bonus is the positive effect on jobs and our economy.

Whether it is environmental site design for stormwater management, planning for natural drainage systems or wastewater treatment plant upgrades, these projects help improve our water quality, make progress toward our Chesapeake Bay restoration goals and create or support jobs for Marylanders in Maryland.

A healthy Chesapeake Bay Watershed will benefit Maryland's tourism, recreation and fishery industries; improve the value of our homes, farms and businesses; and create more jobs, all while protecting drinking water and improving waterways statewide. The Chesapeake Bay and our groundwater, streams and rivers are critical to our economy, our health and our culture.

Maryland is a trailblazer in its commitment to improving water quality and the Chesapeake Bay. We have an action plan in place, and we are moving forward. We should be proud of the progress we are making.

But we all must do our part to succeed. We must continue to make investments and work aggressively to restore the bay its tributaries. Despite the costs, the savings are priceless — because what we are saving is our environment.

Clean water and a healthy economy go hand in hand, and the possibilities we face if we do not meet our water quality goals will be devastating. We cannot afford to sit idly by and watch the heart and treasure of Maryland deteriorate without hope of repair.

Robert M. Summers is secretary of the Maryland Department of the Environment. His email is mde_secretary@mde.state.md.us.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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