Friday, November 18, 2011

Patuxent River Keeper Questions Emphasis on Septic Systems

Patuxent Riverkeeper Fred Tutman has questioned the growing interest in septic systems as a major culprit in Chesapeake Bay pollution. At the annual meeting of the Potomac River Association Wednesday at the Southern Maryland Higher Education Center in California, Tutman said, “I question the science and I am not a scientist.” The concerns were raised a day after a very preliminary St. Mary’s County Watershed Implementation Plan said septic systems needed to be upgraded or converted to central systems and pegged the price tag at upwards if $176 million.

Tutman said the original focus of the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund was upgrading sewage treatment plants and septic systems were “an afterthought.” He said going after septic systems as a lever to channel growth may be the motive.
I think this is right, in large part. Septic systems constitute something like 8% of the nutrients Chesapeake Bay currently.  Significant, but not really important by themselves.  The desire to limit septic systems comes more from a desire to limit growth in the rural and suburban areas than for the contribution it will make to clean the Bay. 

Frankly, the urban areas are generally politically "blue" while the suburbs and rural areas tend politically "red."  The "blue" powers that be would rather encourage any increase in population into the "blue" zones, where they hope to benefit from the vote.
Tutman also said that companies wanting to take advantage of retrofitting the septics may be another force behind the push. “I understand what is driving it. I don’t know, but I am skeptical,” he added. Tutman said during his presentation that long-time local scientist Dr. Walter Boynton had pegged the Patuxent’s pollution problems on its 80 plus upstream sewage treatment plants. Tutman said some of the smaller plants that fall under the regulatory radar may be major contributors.

Tutman said the environmental advocacy in the Bay region had lost its soul. He said it needed to be reinvigorated by having a heart, by emphasizing what people love about the Bay and rivers instead of emphasizing the science that many people don’t understand.
I think you would find more real support for Chesapeake Bay issue outside  population centers, where people live to experience the outdoors.  I strongly suspect the support you find for environmental issues in the population centers is largely rhetorical, and focused on global, rather than regional, issues, like global warming and "sustainability."

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