BALTIMORE – The first tasks on the agenda for the new committee charged with Chesapeake Bay cleanup are to identify the state’s 420,000 septic systems and to maximize funding for wastewater treatment plant upgrades, members said Wednesday.
The first meeting of the Bay Restoration Fund Advisory Committee initiated a law intended to reduce nutrient pollution in the bay by 2011.
“We have a chance now, with real dollars, real funds to make a significant, significant difference to our bay,” said Robert Warfield, committee chairman.
The committee, created as part of a law signed in May, will oversee the state’s “flush tax,” which charges sewer and septic users $30 per year to finance treatment plant and septic system upgrades.
Committee members will work to compile a list of septic users for billing purposes and to manage improvements to the state’s 66 major wastewater treatment plants.
“Most of us don’t think of the sewer very much. It’s something that just happens in our lives,” said Warfield, “. . . but it’s very important and critical.”
Nutrients from those treatment plants discharge into the bay to feed algae blooms, which in turn use up oxygen and render the water uninhabitable.
“We’ve got to attack all of the sources of nitrogen and phosphorous (in) the Chesapeake Bay,” said Robert Summers, the committee’s Maryland Department of the Environment representative.
Three sources – agricultural runoff, sewage systems and septic systems – will be improved with millions of tax dollars within the next decade.
The money will reduce plant discharges with enhanced nutrient removal technology, resulting in a 7.5-million-pound annual nitrogen reduction and a 250,000-pound annual phosphorous reduction.
The total cost, said Jag Khuman, director of the Maryland Water Quality Financing Administration, could approach $1 billion, but should be “scaled back.”
The plants garnering the most attention are Back River, Patapsco and Blue Plains, the three of which will consume 60 percent of the sewage plant funding.
The committee will report its findings annually starting next January. The sewage user tax begins in January.
Most residents support a fee to clean up the bay, according to a poll released early this week, funded by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. The study polled 1,215 registered voters in Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and the District, and also found that bay pollution ranked as their second-most important concern.
The monthly cost per person to clean up the bay, said Khuman, runs about the same as a sandwich, and is well worth it.