House Environmental Matters Committee
Chairwoman MacIntosh; Vice Chair Malone; Members of the Committee:
We choose to address issues relating to the health of our Bay, because a healthy Bay matters for jobs, opportunity, and our quality of life – and because years from now, none of us want to have to look our grandkids and say, “that big body of water, at one time, actually had fish in it.”
The two proposals you consider today are designed to help us ensure that we’re able to pass on a healthier Bay and the same quality of life we’ve enjoyed.
The Flush Fee
The first concerns the Bay Restoration Fund, and the flush fee that supports it. My Republican predecessor called this investment one of his most important accomplishments in office.
By allowing us to make green upgrades to wastewater treatment plants, we have greatly reduced the pollution flowing into our Bay. In fact, there are few areas of Bay Restoration that have reduced pollution flow as dramatically. Twenty-five percent of the reduction in nitrogen pollution we’ve achieved together over three years is a result of these upgrades. That’s second only to the record number of cover crops planted by Maryland’s farmers, in terms of impact on reducing nitrogen pollution.
No one else was going to make this investment for us, but the fee was never sufficient from the outset to cover the work to be done. Ultimately, the pace – and cost – of the work required has outstripped the flat-rate “flush fee” revenues that support the fund.
The estimated cost of remaining upgrades at our wastewater treatment plants is $1.38 billion. If the flush fee remains as it is now, we project a shortfall of $385 million. Increasing the flush fee would allow us to complete the upgrades by 2017.
While others have suggested tripling the flush fee, I believe a better, fairer way forward is to double the yield by switching most households to a fee structure based on consumption – whereby, the less you use, the less you pay. This will double the amount of work we are able to do for the Bay.
Not to mention, the flush fee increase will support more than 1,100 jobs annually – jobs that cannot be outsourced, and will benefit Maryland families for years to come.
The second proposal regards septic pollution into our Bay. I want to thank the members of the Task Force on Sustainable Growth and Wastewater Disposal and everyone in the stakeholder workgroups who put a tremendous amount of work into working to address this problem over the interim.
Among the big four causes of pollution in the Bay, septic pollution is the one area where so far we have totally failed – where the graph is going pretty dramatically in the wrong direction. It’s the fastest growing cause of nitrogen pollution in our Bay, and it’s only getting worse.
In fact, all our progress to date in reducing nitrogen pollution by retrofitting existing septic systems – progress we’ve invested $40 million in since 2008 – has been completely negated by the installation of new septic systems.
On the Lower Western Shore, septic pollution now accounts for 33% of the damaging flow of nitrogen into the Bay. What’s happening to the health of the waters here is what I call a glimpse of Christmas future, unless we change the manner in which we grow.
By design, septic systems are intended to leak nitrogen into our Bay and water tables. This impacts our State in three ways:
- Septic systems have a disproportionate impact on our water quality; a house on a septic system causes six to ten times the pollution to the Bay as a house on public sewer. By 2035, if we don’t change course, 76% of nitrogen pollution from all new households will come from households on septic systems – even as only 24% of new homes are projected to use septic systems.
- New development on septic systems is threatening our family farms and forest land. Septic development consumes eight times the amount of land per new household on average than development within sewered areas.
- Septic developments are undermining our efforts to grow smarter – efforts that could ultimately save us more than a billion dollars in infrastructure costs over the next 20 years as we grow in population by a million people.
The bill before you is a moderate, reasonable, and tiered approach that’s patterned on what several rural counties are already doing to protect their farmland and protect the waters of the Bay.
In fact, Kent County, Worcester County, Baltimore County and Montgomery County have already adopted policies similar to our proposal to restrict the proliferation of septics and protect their farmland and forest land.
This bill will prevent 50,000 new septic systems and stop as much as 1.1 million pounds of nitrogen pollution from being pumped into surface water by 2035.
Along with the bipartisan proposal to exempt working farms from the estate tax, this measure will better protect the agricultural lands upon which family farming depends. What’s more, it will produce considerable savings in terms of fewer remediation costs and infrastructure costs to support new septic housing developments.
What it won’t do is ban septic system development, or supersede local development plans.
The Chesapeake Bay is part of what makes our State great. So too are our woodlands, wetlands and farm lands. The choices we make together on these two proposals matter for our quality of life, and the stronger future we hold in our hearts.
I look forward to answering any questions you may have.