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'Flush tax' provisions would improve local water quality

March 19, 2004

Should Washington County residents feel guilty about the condition of the Chesapeake Bay?

Del. John Donoghue says no, but the so-called "flush tax" bill which comes up for a vote today is likely to do as much for the local area as it would for the bay. It should be approved.

After a 2002 study which found that despite spending millions, the bay was still plagued by pollution, Gov. Robert Ehrlich proposed a $30-a-year tax for municipal sewer users and an 8-cent-per-gallon fee on waste pumped from septic tanks.

In all, that would generate $78 million, much of which would be available for grants to upgrade the state's 66 largest sewer plants - a list that includes Hagerstown.

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Other grants would be available to homeowners to upgrade their septic systems and to farmers to plant cover crops. A third provision would streamline the nutrient-management laws many in agriculture find burdensome.

If the process of cleaning up the bay means that the water quality of Washington County's streams are cleaned up and Hagerstown's sewer plant upgraded, that's a plus for the area. And if the bill enables some local folks with failing or malfunctioning septic systems to upgrade, wouldn't that protect the groundwater for those who must depend on wells for their water?

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation's latest "State of the Bay" report found that despite the fact that many state, local and federal dollars have been spent on the clean-up effort, upstream development has put many nutrients and much sediment into the waterways that feed into the bay.

Those substances degrade the bay's water quality, which means that sunlight can't penetrate to the bottom on the bay and nourish grasses and other plants on the bottom that provide shelter for young crabs and fish.

Even if you never eat a bay fish or crack a crab, many of Maryland's businesses and the state's tax revenues depend on a healthy bay. The alternative to these fees would be onerous controls on development and farming activity. This measure would not only advance the clean-up on the bay, but improve local water quality - above and below the ground. Pass it now.

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