Maryland’s recent election has disrupted the state’s longstanding political paradigm by electing a new governor, Larry Hogan. Hogan promised to repeal a 2012 law that aimed to increase funding for the state’s stormwater management. Hogan’s own bill was unsuccessful in repealing the law, but other opponents introduced a similar bill to replace the existing law. Regardless, federal oversight and potential consequences of forgoing stormwater management will remain. The City of Baltimore is familiar with such consequences after receiving a bad review from the Environmental Protection Agency in 2009.
The Chesapeake Bay’s decline has extended over centuries, and a few recent decades of recovery have not lifted the Bay’s status from dangerously unstable to improving. Advocates for a healthy Chesapeake Bay are loved ones in a waiting room, hoping for the news of a once-flourishing estuary’s healthy recovery. The Bay shows just enough signs of life that Maryland continues balancing treatment expenses while trying to keep food on the table. Marylanders’ collective willingness to save the Bay is waning.
As agricultural pollution and urban sprawl continue in the Baltimore-Washington region, the Bay’s current health is currently considered a 32 on a scale of zero to 100. A score of 100 is the ideal, and is based on John Smith’s vivid descriptions of plentiful tree cover, dense fish and shellfish populations, and clear waters observed in 1608. A score of 70 or higher would represent a saved, but not fully recovered Bay.
The law’s formal title is The Watershed Protection and Restoration Program, but Hogan and other opponents are branding it as the “Rain Tax.” The law requires Maryland’s ten jurisdictions that are subject to a Phase I MS4 permit to impose fees to create and build revenue for a dedicated stormwater management fund. Then, the jurisdictions must publish a biennial report on the collection of fees and funded projects. The codified language describes the allowed types of funding mechanisms as “a flat rate; on each property; or another method of calculation selected by .”
The Center for Watershed Protection’s review of Maryland’s new law allows for comparison of strategies, costs, and funding across jurisdictions. The total estimated cost to meet federal requirements depends on the environmental design and urban planning tools implemented. Dependence on stormwater fees as a funding source also varies across jurisdictions. Baltimore City has at least 7,000 acres more of untreated impervious surface than Prince George’s County. Baltimore City has less than half the projected annual cost per acre compared to Prince George’s County, but the City relies more heavily on fees, whereas Prince George’s reportedly relies on bond revenues. The City ultimately collected more fees than Prince George’s County.
Baltimore City property owners were billed their first stormwater fee in September 2013 and continue to be billed every quarter. Clean Water Baltimore (CWB) reported that the City billed $21.4 million in stormwater fees by June 2014, though an audit of how much was collected is not yet available. A press release by CWB reports that “under the new stormwater rules, and with dedicated stormwater funding, that were delayed for years are finally moving forward.”
Does your city have a stormwater management program or plan? Do you pay taxes to support stormwater management in your city? Share your thoughts and stories in the comment area below.
Credits: Images by Jade Clayton. Data linked to sources.