Guest column:
Localities can help the bay

The Capital, January 06, 2009

In recent days we have been told that the federal government and the Virginia, Pennsylvania and Maryland state governments are failing in their attempts to restore the Chesapeake Bay.

Nearly 25 years have passed and more than $6 billion has been spent since these four parties signed an agreement outlining a 30-year plan for bay recovery.

It is imperative that local governments act - and act quickly. I'm calling on the Anne Arundel County Council and other local governments to follow Annapolis' lead in passing stricter laws to prevent residential and commercial stormwater runoff.

Annapolis recently passed one of the strictest municipal laws forbidding the use or sale of lawn fertilizers containing phosphorus. The measure was introduced by Alderwoman Julie Stankivic, R-Ward 6, and Mayor Ellen Moyer. Alderman Ross Arnett, D-Ward 8, and I were co-sponsors.

As of Jan. 1, it has been illegal to apply phosphorus-containing fertilizers to lawns in the city without a demonstrated need. Beginning Jan. 1, 2010, it will be illegal to display or sell such fertilizers unless a resident or business provides evidence that a phosphorus-containing fertilizer is needed. This ordinance can be found on the city Web site,

Ms. Stankivic is to be commended for the time she spent on research and in garnering the support of professional organizations and scientists, to help write this exemplary legislation.

Overfertilizing lawns and the use of phosphorus on lawns is contributing to the death of the bay, and very little has been done about it. The State of Maryland put restrictions on the content of these fertilizers, but did not come close to solving the problem.

The Annapolis City Council has also approved legislation updating stormwater management requirements for nonwaterfront properties, requiring stricter control of stormwater runoff.

If we do indeed care about the bay and its tributaries, we should change the behavior that is contributing to algae blooms and the poisoning of the bay. Algae are sucking the life out of our waters, and marine life is, for the most part, dead.

Native plants suitable to Maryland's climate can also be substituted for expansive green lawns. Rain gardens, rain barrels, green roofs, stormwater retention ponds and shoreline restoration - as well as having fewer impervious driveways and parking lots - will help bring our bay back to life.

But it's also a matter of economics. Oyster harvesting has dropped 96 percent since 1983, and the last crab harvest is 60 percent of what it was in that year.

The bay was once known for its plentiful marine life - including its abundance of oysters and crabs. But now nearly all of this is gone, and there is little work for watermen to do. Oyster packing plants and crab boats that were once everywhere have practically disappeared.

The mayor and a supportive City Council have made great strides in implementing legislation and educating the public on the necessity of preventing stormwater runoff. But, in light of recent media reports, we need to redouble our efforts.

The city is doing its part. Now we need Anne Arundel County and other local governments to match our efforts.

Working together we can make a big, big difference.

The writer, a Democrat, is the alderman representing Ward 7.


(Revised January 2009)