And yet they blame farmers?

There was a story in yesterday’s Baltimore Sun by Timothy Wheeler which was brought to my attention, a story which documented the troubles both Baltimore City and County are having with a sewage infrastructure which, in some cases, is over a century old. Between the two municipalities over 160 million gallons of untreated sewage has leaked into the watershed this year alone.

Obviously this is a situation which is slowly being addressed, as the story points out over $2 billion is being invested into repairing the system over the next decade. Certainly that’s a legitimate function of government, and I have no objection to local tax dollars being used in such a manner.

It’s the unfortunate tendency of farmers and rural interests getting the blame for a problem that occurs because of urban areas like Baltimore City and County which bothers me the most.

While they have a small role to play in the perceived contamination of Chesapeake Bay, it’s my thought that farmers and those in rural counties take a disproportionate share of the blame for the Bay’s woes and would bear the brunt of punishment through ill-conceived concepts like Smart Growth and its offspring, PlanMaryland. It seems to me that the infrastructure in place that Smart Growth relies on may not work as well as what comes naturally from a septic system or perhaps an advanced local treatment plant, which would be supplied by all-new infrastructure that’s technologically advanced over the construction methods of a century or even forty years ago.

Let’s create and develop two mythical subdivisions as examples. Subdivision A is created outside the urban core, and let’s say the developer sees the benefits of something like this. Essentially they’re using the latest technology and brand-new infrastructure, while putting out clean effluent which won’t have adverse effects on the ecosystem. The cost would be spread out among those choosing to live in the development.

On the other hand, Subdivision B is hooked up to the existing city sewer system. The new subdivision will have nice infrastructure up to the point it hooks up to the city’s system – then it’s anyone’s guess how well the waste products will be taken care of before reaching their final destination. Taxpayers will be saddled with the bill for improvements, which will be piecemeal Band-Aids since they can never seem to keep up with the demands presented by an aging system.

It seems to me that growth outside the core shouldn’t be discouraged since in the long run it may be beneficial to the ecosystem. By not taxing leaky municipal systems as much they’ll be allowed to last longer and perhaps be overhauled to more modern standards. It’s contrarian thinking at its best.

And quit blaming agriculture for the problems city-dwellers create. There’s plenty enough regulation for them to contend with now without dreaming up new hoops for them to jump through.

Comments

One Response to “And yet they blame farmers?”

  1. Gunpowder Chronicle on December 12th, 2011 5:02 am

    Michael,

    You leave out some important points:

    1) The system in Baltimore County and Baltimore City (it’s actually one system, jointly owned in some ways) is problematic not just because it is old, but because the users of that system do not bear the full costs of maintaining that system. It is heavily subsidized (such as by Bobby Ehrlich’s asinine flush tax) by all taxpayers. Conversely, if you are on septic, you as a homeowner pay the full boat of maintenance on that system. So who has the greater incentive to properly maintain their system in good working order?

    2) Once connected to a centralized sewer system, businesses and individuals can use it to discharge all sorts of nasty things. They can throw stuff down that pipe without regard for how it is handled. Rural septic system owners — because they bear the full immediate cost of maintenance and repair — have to be much more mindful.

    3) When centralized systems have a problem — power outage, pipe break, pumping station has a failure — it involves millions of gallons of sewage at a single time in a single place. Highly concentrated, the effect is undoubtedly a strain on the natural ecosytsem. Not so with properly functioning septic systems… and unless you have a cluster of them, even failing ones.

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