Gov. Larry Hogan's announcement last week that he is seeking private sector ideas on how to prevent sediment and phosphorus pollution from spilling over the Conowingo Dam and polluting the Chesapeake Bay was a significant one.

During a large storm, the millions of tons of sediment that have been building up behind the Conowingo Dam, which extends between Harford and Cecil counties along the Susquehanna River, can easily wipe out years worth of efforts and millions of dollars put into limiting the amount of watershed runoff and harmful nutrients flowing into the bay.

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In some ways, the governor's announcement was vindication for Commissioner Richard Rothschild, who has been beating that drum for several years despite criticism that it wasn't a Carroll County issue. Rothschild has argued that doing so would reduce the burden on the state's taxpayers.

The sediment building up behind the dam was definitely an elephant in the room that is finally getting addressed, although it's not the only contributor to pollution in the bay. But we're admittedly skeptical that dredging sediment from the dam's reservoirs will be the panacea that suddenly gives Carroll residents and other Marylanders significant relief from the costs of environmental regulations that have been enacted by previous administrations.

Using best available technologies for septic systems and having strong stormwater management will still help contribute to the future health of the bay, and efforts like those should be continued. If the sediment can be dredged effectively, though, it could save taxpayers a lot of money down the road in place of additional regulations or taxes that might've been implemented.

We'd also like to see states like Pennsylvania take a more active role in limiting runoff before it makes it to the dam, where it builds up as sediment. Maryland's residents shouldn't shoulder the entire burden of keeping the bay clean when much of the problem is coming from upstream. Hogan noted this in his remarks, but that's a tough sell to convince politicians from states that don't see a direct benefit from the bay to put a larger tax burden or more regulations on their constituents only to decrease the impact on Marylanders.

It also remains to be seen whether a private company will be able to efficiently and effectively dredge the reservoirs at the dam and turn the material into something usable. If a company can't use the material, the material has to go somewhere, which could create another environmental issue or expense. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has estimated that dredging there would cost billions. Our guess is if the material could be used to make a profit, companies would've been lining up to dredge it long ago.

Bottom line: We think this is a great step in Maryland's efforts to clean up the bay and one that could ultimately save taxpayers money. It doesn't mean we should abandon other initiatives already in place to keep pollution out of the state's most precious natural resource.

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