Cecil County’s future depends on the Bay
— We live in a beautiful county with five rivers that access and flow into the Chesapeake Bay. Our history is tied into the water with commerce, fisheries and a thriving maritime tourism industry.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has designated the Bay as failing in water quality health due to pollutants such as nitrogen and phosphorous. These
naturally occurring elements reduce oxygen levels in the Bay, resulting in dead zones late in summer. Our fisheries, oysters and crabs have declined in numbers over the years, and most people agree that reducing these nutrients would increase oxygen levels in the water. This should increase population growth of these favorite seafood items.
The EPA has designated all states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed to come up with pollutant source solutions. Maryland officials over the last several years have singled out farmers (particularly poultry operations), rural homeowners (enhanced sep- tic systems), and a stormwater tax (i.e rain tax) to pay for our part of the cleanup. The problem is that these sources are not the main source of pollutants in the Bay.
The county and towns have worked with the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) to upgrade our wastewater treatment plants. Our new Northeast River Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant at Seneca Point is removing nutrients at historic levels, due to our investment in membrane technology. Rising Sun, Elkton and Perryville all have enhanced nutrient removal plants running in their towns. And we are taking failing septic systems offline in the Charlestown area to stop this pollution source. Our DPW works with commercial and residential landowners to reduce nutrient runoff to the Bay. Cecil County is doing its part for sure.
But Maryland has ignored the biggest source of pollution to the Bay, which comes in through the Susquehanna River.
Close to 50 percent of the fresh water coming into the Bay enters through the Susquehanna River and the Conowingo Dam. The dam has stopped millions of tons of sediment and attached phosphorous from entering the Bay, but it is now at capacity. Even small flooding events now scour sediments into the Bay, turning the water brown, and settling at the Susquehanna Flats, a large breeding ground for rockfish. The county works with the Clean Chesapeake Coalition, a consortium of counties that advocate for including the pollution in the Susquehanna River and the sediment behind the dam in the total maximum daily load calculation on how to clean up the Bay. Although it would seem obvious to us that this is the biggest source of the pollutants, we continue to fight with environmentalists based in Annapolis who want to ignore this situation.
Should we pay for other states pollution of the Bay?
The answer is an emphatic no, and our county and the Clean Chesapeake Coalition will continue to work to hold Pennsylvania and New York culpable for their large and significant contribution of pollutants to the Chesapeake Bay.
We all want the Chesapeake Bay to be clean and thriving for many years to come. Our future depends on it.
Dan Schneckenburger is a Cecil County Councilman.