As Maryland counties consider signing on to efforts lead by Dorchester County and the law firm Funk and Bolton to potentially battle mandates to reduce local pollution, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation has been encouraging another kind of discussion. How do we ensure that funding is available, and that the counties' plans are efficient, cost-effective and get the job done?
This is not just a Maryland issue, but a concern that we have heard across the watershed. The concerns are legitimate, but we believe solutions exist or are on the horizon. Innovative technologies, creative approaches to reducing pollution and long-term financing will all be necessary.
The projected costs are already dropping in many jurisdictions. For example, a year ago Frederick County estimated it might have to spend as much as $4.3 billion to reduce polluted runoff. An outside expert then estimated $2.3 billion. That number dropped further to $1.5 billion when the state provided better information to the county about techniques it would allow. We believe costs could continue to drop significantly. And Talbot County is exploring the idea of modest improvements to existing farm and street ditches to filter polluted runoff, an innovation that could save hundreds of millions of dollars from their original estimates.
The CBF is actively working with counties to explore how long-term financing could put more money on the ground sooner. We, along with the Maryland Association of Counties, were recently the co-hosts of a daylong seminar on innovative financing opportunities.
Progress is being made. In the city of Lancaster, PA, they are looking at green infrastructure to significantly reduce stormwater pollution as well as costs. City officials estimate that using green infrastructure as opposed to traditional stormwater practices will cut their costs in half.
And in Virginia, Gov. Robert McDonnell recently announced the state will put $3 million toward fully funding the costs of fencing cattle out of streams.
In Maryland, the Department of the Environment has said that money from the State Revolving Fund can be made available for stormwater work.
The states and counties are not in this alone. Despite the impending fiscal problems in Washington, DC, the federal government will continue to be an important partner. Whatever the ultimate fate of the Farm Bill, there will still be significant conservation funding available for the agricultural community. In addition, there will be several proposals on the table in the next Congress to provide local assistance for stormwater and sewage treatment plant upgrades. The CBF will be working hard on Capitol Hill to ensure the federal government continues to play an important role in restoring local waterways.
In addition, the EPA, in conjunction with the University of Maryland's Environmental Finance Center, is scheduling forums across the watershed to work with local governments to identify and understand financing issues related to the implementation of the clean water blueprint. The sessions will focus primarily on reducing pollution from agriculture and stormwater.
More will need to be done. Pennsylvania must ramp up efforts to reduce pollution from agriculture and stormwater.
Maryland needs to fully fund the Bay Trust Fund to provide money and technical assistance to local jurisdictions.
And Virginia must remain a partner with local governments, utility operators and farmers by providing the state's share of wastewater upgrades planned over the next three years, fully funding cost-share and technical assistance needed for the agriculture best management practice program and offering stormwater program planning grants.
The progress over the last two years shows what can be done when government, businesses and individuals work together to save the Bay and its rivers and streams. The 2010 Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint is working, but there is much more that needs to be done. Clean water will benefit our children and future generations. If we don't keep making progress we will continue to have polluted waters, human health hazards, and lost jobs—at a huge cost to society.