from the Desk of Alison Prost Winter 2016

Fighting for Clean Water in Howard County 

"If it ain't broke, don't fix it." That's what Howard County resident Paige Getty told her county council Jan. 19. She, and many passionate residents like her, spoke out against a proposal to eliminate the county's stormwater utility fee.  

CBF's Elaine Lutz testifying at the Howard County hearing.

CBF's MD Attorney Elaine Lutz testifying on behalf of CBF's more than 5,000 members in Howard County. Photo by CBF Staff.

A packed room at the Howard County hearing.

A packed room at the Howard County Council meeting discussing its stormwater fee. Photo courtesy of Maryland LCV.

Nearly 100 members of PATH (People Acting Together In Howard) displayed signs that read, "Proud to Pay" at the hearing discussing the county's stormwater fee.

Nearly 100 members of PATH (People Acting Together In Howard) displayed signs that read, "Proud to Pay," in support of Howard County's stormwater fee. Photo by CBF Staff.

It was heartening to see nearly 100 supporters of the fee turn out at the public hearing. The majority of residents of Howard seem to understand a stormwater fee works. It's the best and most cost-efficient means to fix the problem of polluted runoff and local flooding. 

I hope elected officials not only in Howard County but throughout Maryland hear the voices of people such as Getty. Everyday citizens seem to understand what many politicians don't. Stormwater fees actually save us money as we look to improve drainage in our communities and reduce pollution in local streams and creeks. 

In Howard County, the stormwater fee has been working since 2013. It is funding projects to re-engineer the suburban landscape and to benefit communities and residents. The funds from the fee create manmade ponds and wetlands in strategic drainage areas, plant trees along suburban streams, and restore the streams themselves. It's helping householders install rain barrels and rain gardens. 

Here's a way to think of what the fee already has done in Howard. Imagine trouble spots around the county where water is not draining properly—basements flood; pollution flushes into nearby creeks. Much of this trouble is caused by too many paved surfaces in parts of the landscape that once naturally absorbed excess water. Since July 1, 2013 the fee has funded projects to clear up these problems on the equivalent of 157 acres. 

But the county has a long way to go to reverse decades of paving and development. The county must restore the equivalent of 1,887 more acres by the end of 2019 to meet government permit requirements, according to a county report issued in December. The cost of that effort will be $222 million, the report estimated. 

So why on earth would the county want to rescind the fee that is providing funding for the work? It doesn't make any sense.

Elaine Lutz, CBF's Maryland attorney, told the Howard County Council at the public hearing that a bill introduced to phase out the stormwater fee is, "shortsighted, factually inaccurate and politically driven rhetoric that threatens to take Howard County back to a place where waters continue to be polluted." 

Some officials in Howard and other Maryland counties have said they would rather take money from their general funds to pay for such work. That's using the same pot of money that is needed for schools, police, and other public services. It's hard to imagine how these officials aren't going to have to turn around and increase taxes or reduce other necessary services. Every astute government budget person also knows that fees work best to fund capital projects because they can be used to leverage additional dollars through bonds. 

Again, Howard County residents get it. Maybe eventually, their elected representatives will, too. Stay tuned for what's next!

—Alison Prost
Maryland Executive Director
Chesapeake Bay Foundation

Our Maryland team has not only been fighting hard for clean water in Howard County, but all across the state. Click here to learn more about what we're doing to stand up for our oysters in the face of the Hogan Administration's latest threat to their restoration.

And click here to learn about our legislative priorities this General Assembly, including our support of critical legislation that would make chicken companies responsible for the excess manure their chickens produce. This legislation would ensure cleaner, healthier waters for us all, and it would protect Maryland farmers and taxpayers from costs that should be borne by the large poultry companies. Click here to urge your elected leaders to support this important legislation.  

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