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The Maryland Rain Tax

Sunset over the Chesapeake Bay, Ocean City, Maryland
Sunset over the Chesapeake Bay, Ocean City, Maryland
Photo taken by Stephanie Siemek

“Treasure the Chesapeake”: a statement that we often see on Marylanders’ license plates, but how treasured is the Bay? Maryland is known for its steamed crabs, crab cakes, and Old Bay spice, so yes, in Maryland we do appreciate the Bay, but when it comes to protecting it, are we doing enough?

The Bay is sick. It is polluted with high levels of nutrients, fecal matter, oil, sediment, and whatever else flows into it once we have a rainstorm. This information is supported by the Chesapeake Bay Program who monitors and publishes their research about the Bay; therefore, it is no secret that the Bay needs help. However, in order to improve water quality those who live in the Bay watershed must do their part to decrease runoff and pollution that is negatively impacting our streams, rivers, creeks, and the Bay directly.

So who are these people living in the Bay watershed? Well, most likely you. There are more than 17 million people who live in the Chesapeake Bay watershed and if you are not sure if that includes you, you can easily find out through the Chesapeake Bay Program website.

Since the Bay provides a habitat for many aquatic species and serves as an economic resource for many Maryland residents the government stepped in to take action to help restore and protect the Bay with a stormwater remediation fee, also known as the rain tax. Although many people have opposed the fee, there are over 1,700 local governments in the United States that have already enacted stormwater fees and a majority of them have been successful.

According to the Western Kentucky University Stormwater Utility Survey 2013 study “a properly funded and managed stormwater utility can mean more parks open space, less flooding, cleaner streams, and increased property values”. Maryland already has plans to install bioretention practices in Howard County that will treat more than 2,000 acres of land, Baltimore County plans to reforest 50 acres of streamside land to decrease nutrient and sediment runoff, Prince George’s County is developing better infiltration systems, and Anne Arundel County is projecting to retrofit 455 stormwater ponds in order to increase water quality treatment. More information pertaining to these projects, as well as the Maryland stormwater fee, can be found on the Center for Watershed Protection’s website.

Skeptics of the fee have shown concern as to whether or not this money will actually be used to restore the Bay, but it is guaranteed that the collected funds will only be used for its purpose.

The Bay is an important resource and home to many organisms that a majority of Marylanders take advantage of each year. Who does not like steamed crabs with a Natty Boh? Much less, who would rather have steamed crabs without all the pollution and bacteria from fecal waste? A catchy song was made in order to address this issue, which can be found on Clean Water, Healthy Families website (check it out!)

When money comes into play, it seems that all of a sudden the Bay is not worth helping; yet, we know the Bay needs our help. The federal government is requiring scientific testing of water quality in order to assess the effectiveness of the rain tax. Also, a stormwater fee is not a new strategy to clean aquatic ecosystems. Many other states have already implemented such a fee that has shown to have positive results. Perhaps one day we can all go swimming in the Bay within 48 hours of a rainstorm as we raise money to help the ecosystem that makes Maryland such a unique state.

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