Stormwater Fee Mismanaged, But Still Valid

January 20, 2019

Who cares about the Chesapeake Bay?

We all should. Lost amid the local furor over a new stormwater fee that will cost most homeowners in 35 Luzerne County towns $60 or less per year, is the environmental success story that decades of smart regulation have wrought for the Chesapeake, the largest estuary in the United States.

The stormwater bills landing in mailboxes around our region are part of an initiative to promote the continuing restoration of the Chesapeake by limiting the fertilizers, chemicals, animal waste and other pollutants that flow into its watershed, including our own Susquehanna River, which produces half of the fresh water in the estuary. The entire Chesapeake system is home to 3,600 species of flora and fauna and before measures were taken to stem pollutants flowing into the Susquehanna and other rivers in the watershed, many of those species were in steep decline.

But last summer, scientists who monitor the Chesapeake reported environmental improvement in all regions along the bay, the first time that has happened in 33 years.

The numbers of blue crab, striped bass and anchovy are increasing and the underwater grasses that provide shelter and nourishment to various species while filtering damaging nutrients from the system are thriving. Shark, dolphin and osprey are once again being spotted in the bay.

But the stormwater fee and the infrastructure improvements it will fund won’t just benefit the Chesapeake, they will also promote the health of our own river, which has improved over time, but still faces challenges, particularly the die-offs and bacterial infections affecting the smallmouth bass population in recent years.

It is true that the rollout of the fee could have been better coordinated by local officials, but the basic idea of joint action by the 35 affected municipalities, which could have found themselves hard-pressed to meet the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s stormwater mandates on their own, is a sound one. And taxpayers will fund the stormwater improvements one way or another.

The Chesapeake watershed’s ongoing renaissance proves that through collective action we can effectively address and redress the changes that we as a species have often unwittingly imposed on the environment.

While the execution of the stormwater policy has been somewhat haphazard, its goals are worth pursuing.

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