In 2004, the state of Maryland created the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund, which derives its money from the “Flush Tax.” This fund was proposed by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. to help reduce excess nutrients pouring into the Chesapeake Bay. Doubling from $30 to $60 dollars in 2012, the “Flush Tax” has made considerable progress in modernizing sewage treatment plants, specifically through the implementation of enhanced nutrient removal (ENR) technology, upgrades to onsite systems and greater planting of cover crops along the bay. Consequently, there has been roughly a 50 percent decline in nitrogen and phosphorus pollution since 2004.
So what’s the problem? As we are seeing, even during typical cooler months in Baltimore, nitrogen and phosphorus pollution are continuing to have a costly effect on our environment. On Dec. 1, a Baltimore Sun article reported a large algae bloom in the Baltimore Inner Harbor due to the exposure of certain nitrogen and phosphorus nutrients (“Report: Patapsco wastewater plant far exceeding its pollution limit”). As the water becomes enriched in these dissolved nutrients, the stimulation of certain aquatic life, such as algae, takes place. In turn, there is a severe depletion in oxygen, which is not only detrimental to the body of water, but also the animals and plants in it.
The Patapsco plant mentioned in the article is the worst polluter in Maryland, yet improvements on the plant are now roughly three years behind schedule.
Recently, as a part of an Environmental Sustainability Class I am taking, I was able to tour the Patapsco Plant back in October. After seeing how the plant works myself, I think it’s important for the people of Baltimore to be aware of this continuous pollution, but, at the same time, to be more cognizant of their own personal waste. I’ve had the opportunity to speak with the plant’s manager, Gary Wagner, who assured me that the plant’s employees are trying to keep the water as clean as possible. He also stressed that the Patapsco Plant is in a very industrial area, making pollution intakes even greater. This problem only intensifies when they have to deal with illegal dumping from both industrial companies and residential locations. The improvements under construction will be extremely helpful, especially during harsh weather conditions.
During my visit, I saw the hard work and effort the plant employees put forth dealing with the wastewater produced by roughly 450,000 people all throughout Baltimore City and Baltimore County. My hope is the Patapsco Plant can stay on pace to finish their new facility and upgrades by this upcoming 2018 summer so we all can benefit from the improvements.
Charlie Ratcliffe, Baltimore