ANNAPOLIS – A program designed to revitalize the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem by cleaning up the rivers and streams that feed into it could cost more than $10 billion, top state environmental officials said Tuesday.
“I haven’t seen anything in the world on the scale that we’re talking about,” C. Ronald Franks, secretary of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, said of the Tributary Strategies Program.
“It has to be a comprehensive plan for us to get back to a healthy bay,” he said at a House Subcommittee on Transportation and the Environment budget hearing.
Approximately $4 billion of the $10 billion is already accounted for in existing state programs and resources in DNR. However, it is unclear where the remaining $6 billion, which will be needed by 2010, will come from, said Jamie Baxter, director of the tributaries program.
Ehrlich has allocated only $11 million to the tributaries effort in his 2007 budget proposal.
“There’s a huge gap between the rhetoric of cleaning up the bay and actually cleaning up the bay,” said Delegate Peter V. R. Franchot, a Montgomery Democrat and chairman of the subcommittee.
“Clearly, we’re not making any progress,” he said.
The tributary program will begin the restoration with the 5-year, $19.4 million Corsica River clean up. Ehrlich has made removing the river from the Environmental Protection Agency’s List of Impaired Waters one of his top environmental priorities.
Ehrlich’s 2007 budget includes $5 million for the Corsica restoration, $5 million for similar projects on other rivers and $1 million to fund the planting of bay grasses.
The Corsica project will serve as a blueprint for the rest of the restoration effort, according to Baxter.
Officials from the Chesapeake Bay Commission, an advisory body comprised legislators and cabinet secretaries from Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania, presented a separate plan of their own to the committee.
With a $71 million increase in funding for agricultural programs, Maryland could decrease nitrogen runoff by 54 percent, phosphorus by 63 percent and sediment by 83 percent, said Ann Swanson, executive director of the commission.
“There is no other way to get a pound (of pollutants) out of the bay cheaper,” she said.
But, before either clean up project can succeed, the state will have to replace its aging sewer pipes, a project that will cost around $4 billion, said Robert M. Summers, director of the Water Management Administration.
Many of the pipes were installed 70 to 100 years ago and use the same line for sewage and rainwater. During heavy rainfall, the sewage and rainfall are both carried out into the bay’s tributaries through overflow outlets.
The bay has also suffered from fast growth in its watershed in recent years. Since 1950, the population in the area has doubled from 8 million to 16 million.
As a result, sewage treatment plants have become overburdened and farmers increasingly relied on nitrogen-based fertilizers, which are harmful to aquatic plants and animals, to grow more crops on smaller plots of land.
“Growth is going to continue to be a challenge,” said Kendl P. Philbrick, secretary of the Maryland Department of the Environment. “We’ll constantly be one step ahead of the devil,” he said.