After decades of effort, the voluntary, collaborative approach to restoring the health and vitality of the Chesapeake Bay— the largest estuary in the United States—has not worked and, in fact, is failing. A diverse group of 57 senior scientists and policymakers have joined forces to save the Bay. This is our plan.

Gilchrest: Jobs & Clean Water for Rural Maryland

(Posted by Dawn Stoltzfus.)

Check out this great op-ed piece that ran in Sunday’s Easton Star Democrat, authored by former Congressman Wayne Gilchrest, a member of the Senior Bay Scientists & Policymaker’s Executive Council. As Maryland Senator Pipkin’s “war on rural Maryland” naysayers gather on Lawyer’s Mall in Annapolis this morning, to decry policies that benefit both urban and rural areas, these words of common sense couldn’t be more timely.

Jobs and clean water for rural Maryland

Peaceful. That’s the word that came to mind on this December afternoon as I looked across Kent County’s rolling fields. Many of them glowed with the soft, new-green growth of recently planted wheat, barley and rye.

Then, the decidedly unpeaceful rhetoric of some of my representatives to the General Assembly came to mind. They say there’s a war on rural Maryland. If this is a land at war, it is the most enlightened conflict I’ve ever witnessed. We are being bombed with efforts to create jobs, build healthier streams and rivers, and ultimately to improve our fisheries.

For example, most of these green acres I see will receive support payments from the state’s cover crop incentive program. The program draws upon Maryland’s Bay Restoration Fund.

Last year, the cover crop program put $22 million into the pockets of farmers across the state. In return, we all got cleaner water. The program is just one example of ways in which the work to better water quality puts money in local communities and creates jobs.

Cover crops control soil erosion, reduce nutrient runoff, and protect water quality in streams, rivers and the Chesapeake Bay. Like other pollution control projects, they also put money in a community. When a farmer plants a crop, others often are involved: seed dealers, equipment suppliers, mechanics and bankers. The money flows through the chain.

The small, vocal group of legislators that sees this as a war on rural areas is vehemently fighting efforts to reduce pollution and clean up local waterways and the Chesapeake Bay. They claim these efforts will hurt rural Marylanders, and in particular farmers and watermen.

These legislators oppose increased funding to support cover crops and upgrade older wastewater treatment plants and failing septic systems. They oppose efforts to write local plans to reduce water pollution and the broader effort those local plans support, officially called the Chesapeake Bay TMDL, total maximum daily load, or “pollution diet” for short.

Why? After all, this is the first time we have real power behind the Bay restoration effort, after decades of voluntary agreements that failed. The local planning, called Phase II Watershed Improvement Plans, gives local communities the ability to shape efforts to their needs. And the projects that support restoration provide local people good jobs. These are programs most Marylanders support. Whether they live in a city, a suburb, a town or on a farm, they recognize this work to improve water quality will bring enormous benefits to rural communities and to urban dwellers.

Maryland’s Bay Restoration Fund, an important source of funding for clean water programs, was created by Gov. Bob Ehrlich, a Republican. It provides hundreds of millions of dollars to improve wastewater treatment systems in rural areas of the Bay watershed.

Small towns with only a few ratepayers to share the cost of upgrades desperately need this help. In many of these towns, a lack of money has stymied much-needed repairs for years. These upgrades and improvements are essential for rural towns to grow. Of the 67 wastewater treatment plants being upgraded, 48 more than two-thirds are located in mostly rural counties (Allegany, Calvert, Caroline, Carroll, Cecil, Charles, Dorchester, Frederick, Harford, Kent, Queen Anne’s, Somerset, St. Mary’s, Talbot, Washington, Wicomico and Worcester). Sixteen are on the Eastern Shore.

The Bay Restoration Fund also upgrades septic systems which can pose a public health risk and contaminate drinking water wells, in addition to polluting waterways. The septic system upgrade program is so popular that it has a long waiting list. Ask the rural counties that have received millions of dollars from this fund and the contractors who have installed hundreds of new septic systems and employed Maryland workers whether they think these programs are a war on rural areas.

While rural areas have big requirements to reduce pollution from agriculture and septic systems, our cousins in urban areas of the state need to do their share. They, too, face big requirements to reduce polluted stormwater runoff, the largest growing source of pollution to the Bay.

The work to reduce stormwater runoff, upgrade wastewater treatment plants and septic systems, and plant cover crops will bring jobs to rural areas. The boots of farmers, engineers, project managers, craftsmen, equipment operators and laborers will hit the ground.

As a result our waters will be fishable and swimmable, our drinking water safe, our seafood, recreation and tourism industries growing, and our real estate gaining value. Our rural communities benefit enormously from this work. We get local jobs and the healthy benefits that clean water brings.

Wayne Gilchrest, a former Republican member of the House of Representatives, represented Maryland’s rural First District for 18 years. He writes from Kent County.

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