U.S. Water News Online
ANNAPOLIS, Md. — The residents of the 64,000-square-mile Chesapeake Bay Watershed are building sidewalks, parking lots and other impervious surfaces at nearly five times the pace of population growth, a bay restoration expert said.
The population has grown by 8 percent since 1985, while impervious surfaces have grown by 41 percent, in the multistate region where water travels that can ultimately flow into the bay, according to Ann Swanson, the executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Commission.
While soil acts as a natural filter for pollutants in rainwater, impervious surfaces send rainwater unfiltered into rivers and streams.
Swanson told a panel of Maryland legislators to fund things such as mass transit and efforts to assist stormwater in returning to the ground when they search for economic stimulus projects.
“This is a place your laws can address,” Swanson said. “You need to make sure there's a green component to what's going in on the ground.”
Swanson's group, which consists of elected officials and residents from Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania, is monitoring the progress of bay restoration efforts.
“The state of the bay is not necessarily a happy story,” Swanson said. “The happy story is what can be done.”
Delegate John Cardin, D-Baltimore County, said the creation of new impervious surfaces like buildings and roads is “a major concern for health and the purity and potability of water.” Cardin introduced a bill this year in the Maryland General Assembly that would create a database of all of Maryland's impervious surfaces.
“I have no interest in increasing fees or taxes at this point in time for people who are building new impervious surfaces - that would be a death sentence for certain industries,” Cardin said. “I do want to monitor this, though. Before we start making any major policy decisions that will result in winners or losers, let's get full information on what is going on out there.”
William Baker, president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation conservation group, told members of the Maryland House's environmental matters committee that state and federal governments need to step up enforcement of environmental laws.
“We do have the science, we do have technology, we do have the public support,” Baker said. “We need to enforce the laws.”
Baker's group is already suing the federal government to enforce the law and clean up the polluted Chesapeake Bay, and he says it may file another lawsuit soon in Maryland. According to Baker, the suit could resemble a case the group pursued against the state of Virginia and Philip Morris USA over pollution in the James River.
While the foundation wouldn't sue the state of Maryland itself, Baker says the group may “go to court to do what the state won't do” in terms of more strictly enforcing environmental laws.
The foundation settled the Virginia lawsuit last year.
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