What happens in Balto. Co. affects the bay

February 18, 2011

In response to The Sun's article "Proposed septic ban worries installers, housing industry" (Feb. 16), in which a contractor working in northern Baltimore County remarked, "We're a long way from the bay here," we'd like to remind readers that Baltimore County is indeed very close to the Chesapeake Bay. And what happens there affects not only local rivers and streams but also the Chesapeake.

In fact, within the bay's 64,000–square-mile watershed, Baltimore County is about as close as you can get. Baltimore County has 219 miles of coastline bordering the bay, offering residents scenic views and recreational opportunities. Many miles of the county's streams and rivers flow into the bay. When it is not raining, the water in these streams and rivers comes from groundwater that receives discharge from septic systems that can pollute local waterways and the bay.

Eleven percent of the nitrogen pollution to the bay from the Upper Western Shore Tributary basin, which includes a large portion of Baltimore County, comes from septic systems — 3 percentage points higher than the statewide average. Because Baltimore County is so close to several impaired tidal tributaries — including Baltimore Harbor, the Back, Bush and Gunpowder Rivers, as well as the main stem of the Chesapeake — actions to reduce nitrogen pollution there are very effective at increasing dissolved oxygen levels in the bay.

Of course, the choice between clean or polluted water is one that must be made not just in areas that are close to the bay, like Baltimore County, but across our state.

John Griffin, Annapolis

The writer is secretary of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

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