The rundown on runoff

Our view : Public can't help battle water pollution without the facts

May 13, 2008

On days like yesterday and Sunday when heavy rains saturate the region, it's possible to witness the polluting of Maryland's suffering waterways. From the rivulets of clay running off construction sites in Towson to the bobbing plastic cups in the Inner Harbor, the impact is obvious enough.

This may be why a recent opinion survey sponsored by the Herring Run Watershed Association and others found the public is concerned about the harmful effects of urban storm water. Runoff from the streets can be as damaging to the environment as anything that leaves a local sewage treatment plant.

The trouble is, as the survey notes, the public is not well educated on the root causes. Some believe that storm water runoff is treated before it re-enters streams or rivers (it isn't). Others are apt to assume that floating trash was put there by an errant boater instead of the more likely cause - it originated as litter on some city or suburban street.

Advocates say the survey underscores the need for an ad campaign to explain the problem and teach the public what it can do to help. It's hard to disagree. People are not only concerned about pollution, but the study revealed their willingness to pitch in. Here's how they could help: stop treating the storm drains as a trash bin, use fewer pesticides , plant trees or other native landscaping on your property, pick up after pets.

But not all of it can be solved by the actions of the individual. That's why it's disappointing that the survey found only about 40 percent of people would pay more in taxes to clean up polluted waters. But enforcing laws and upgrading public infrastructure - for instance, installing tree boxes on city sidewalks, planting vegetation along creek banks or replacing outdated storm water ponds - costs tax dollars.

The recently enacted $25 million Chesapeake Bay 2010 Trust Fund should help in this regard. But even that is paltry compared with the size and scope of the problem. And that's something people need to understand as well.

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