Saturday Mailbox


November 29, 2003

Proliferating pavement turns rain to tragedy

We have known for years the environmental cost of stream degradation. Streams that collect runoff from streets, parking lots and other paved surfaces carry pollutants from those surfaces. Rainwater can't soak into pavement, so large volumes of water rush into streams, causing erosion of banks and raising the sediment load in the water. Paved streambeds increase the speed of water flow in the channel and erode downstream portions of the waterway.

Results include the death of plants and animals in streams and the degradation of water quality in the Chesapeake Bay, where all the water ends up.

In the bay, sediments cloud the water, smother oysters and cut off light to grasses where blue crabs and young fish hide. When grasses die, another series of events ensues as oxygen levels decline along with populations of fish and crabs.

Now the drowning deaths of an 11-year-old boy ("Mourning a young life swept away," Nov. 21) and three men ("Drowned men's employer was cited earlier," Nov. 21) following last week's heavy rains show the direct and tragic human cost of the misguided practices of the past with regard to urban streams.

It is unlikely that water flow would have reached sufficient levels to sweep these victims to their deaths had these waterways had sufficient buffers of trees and other vegetation and natural, unpaved beds to soak up rainfall and decrease the water load in the channels.

These tragedies offer another and even more urgent reason to step up the efforts to restore our urban streams.

Karen Carle Meyers


Sewage treatment is meeting its goals

The Sun's articles on guarding the health of the Chesapeake Bay certainly help focus attention on the need to advance cleanup efforts for our extraordinary estuary ("Tighter pollution controls sought," Nov. 19). However, the impacts of wastewater treatment plants on the bay are often misrepresented.

Overall, Maryland wastewater treatment plants contribute only 6 percent of the bay's nitrogen waste - an amount that will continue to decrease as facilities statewide make enhanced nutrient-removal upgrades.

Unfortunately, significant achievements have not been made in addressing other sources of bay pollution, such as agricultural and urban runoff and atmospheric pollution deposits, the harmful results of which have been detailed in Sun articles recounting our area's record-setting rainfall.

At the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC), we help clean more than 180 million gallons of wastewater each day. Over the past 15 years, WSSC has reduced nitrogen discharges 51 percent while water flows increased 22 percent.

In fact, WSSC wastewater plants are meeting, or doing better than, bay program goals for nitrogen and phosphorus reductions.

John R. Griffin


The writer is general manager of the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission.

Marriage, tax laws hurt single people

Eleven years ago, we began a family together, and now, in our 60s, we have never been happier. Together, we supported each other through the death of an elderly mother and an elderly father and other family illnesses, including when one of us was struck with cancer. We have made outstanding contributions to our community and traveled around the world together.

It is an outrage that under current Maryland law, when one of us dies, the survivor would have to pay a 10 percent inheritance tax on half the value of the house that we own jointly, simply because we are not married and are not allowed to marry ("State-by-state fight looms over same-sex marriage," Nov. 22).

Worse still, if one of us ended up severely disabled, the state could deprive the other of a roof over his head while our family residence is sold and half of its value automatically given to an institution to take care of the other. This would not happen to a married couple.

Such discrimination against single people and gay people is an outrage and deprives multitudes of citizens of equal rights. Many conservatives use terms such as "marriage penalty" and "protecting the family" to blind people to the denial of family and equal-taxation rights to many single people.

And such discrimination not only affects gay people, it also compels many married people to remain in dysfunctional and abusive families because of the financial liabilities of being single are so great.

We challenge Maryland to follow the examples of Hawaii, California, Vermont, South Africa, Canada, most European nations and now Massachusetts in adopting domestic law appropriate for the 21st century that is truly family-friendly.

Stefan Goodwin Dean Wagner Baltimore

Profiting from Iraq could prove costly

It's safe to say that most Americans want to see our troops in Iraq, who seem to remain at continuous risk, out of there ASAP. Most of us don't really care which Iraqis we've chosen for provisional governing functions or who will follow them or write their constitution.

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