Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Baltimore Sun to Counties: Just Bend Over and Take It

Our view: A growing anxiety over bay's cleanup costs has caused some counties to consider taking the matter to court; they couldn't be more wrong
... Seizing on this discontent, a Baltimore law firm has sought to gather support for a potential lawsuit. At least seven counties have reportedly already signed up. That's disconcerting. Local governments have a right to seek redress for regulations they regard as unfair, but they ought not to invent excuses for avoiding their responsibilities. So far, the scientific claims made by the complainants sound suspiciously like the latter.
Take, for instance, the sudden interest in the Conowingo Dam. The opponents would have us believe that the nutrients flowing over the dam — particularly as the result of storms pushing around the growing amount of silt that has accumulated behind it — make the local pollution negligible by comparison. Thus, why force expensive fixes on them when nobody has solved the Conowingo problem?

But while nutrients do flow down the Susquehanna River (still the source of about half the freshwater flowing to the Chesapeake Bay), and the aging dam's declining ability to trap sediments is a concern, it hardly negates an equally justified concern about local pollution problems. Dredging behind the Conowingo (or other possible fixes at the site) won't help Chester River spawning grounds or Choptank River oyster beds. The declining health of tributaries is at least as much of a concern as the bay's main stem, and the tributaries are hardly affected by Susquehanna pollutants.
The reason counties care about the Conowingo Dam is obvious.  The bay restoration goals are based on a TMDL.  TOTAL Maximum Daily Load.  Whatever one source cuts back, above the goal, the others are not required tom to achieve the TOTAL. If half the pollution into Chesapeake Bay comes over the Conowingo Dam, and fixing the dam problem would solve half of that (numbers pulled totally out of my a$$, but they can't be too far off, in geochemical terms), that's 25% less pollution that other polluters have to control to meet the TMDL, which is not an inconsiderable amount.

And consider, cleaning up the last bit of pollution always costs a lot more than the first initial clean up did, due to declining returns on effort as things get cleaner.  Saving 25% on what they have to clean up to meet the TMDL might well save them 50% of the costs incurred.  There is a lot of money at stake, and it behooves the counties to make the best deal possible, and if that means the states and the owners of Conowingo Dam incur more expenses?  Well, just bend over.

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