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How come HoCo is NUMBER 1! in sharing ‘Number 2’ ??? How come our streams and waterways sometimes test at bacterial levels hundreds of times higher than EPA safety limits?  How come HoCo perpetuates such stormwater-related issues by allowing/facilitating over-development?

If a neighbor were to carelessly or purposefully redirect the flow of water from their downspouts to your yard you’d call him a bad neighbor. If he were redirecting overflow from his septic system you’d probably call him a lot of other things as well.  I wonder what term the jurisdictions downstream of HoCo use to describe one of the nations’ most effluent affluent counties…..???

Since the devastating flooding in Ellicott City there has been no shortage of people joining me in speaking out for better stormwater management and against additional development on slopes and/or with vast quantities of impervious pavement. The new attention—approaching outrage—over unwise development practices appears to mirror this year’s earlier “awakening” to issues with our school system. I expect a demand for change to be on the horizon!

storm drainThe flash flooding has made an increasing number of people more aware that all is not well with HoCo’s pace and density of development— particularly how it affects our watersheds. Now we are expanding our awareness with the realization that there is a broader threat to our health, safety, and well-being. It is one even greater than an additional flash flood sweeping through one historic town. In non-technical terms: there is too much poop in our streams and waterways.

Recently there have been numerous articles about fecal matter and other toxins appearing throughout the metropolitan area streams and rivers.  If you missed these because you were away squeezing in a last summer trip you can catch up here:

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation is pressing local governments around the region to do more to prevent polluted stormwater runoff from reaching waterways. Even a half inch of rain is causing fecal matter counts to skyrocket throughout the metropolitan watersheds. CBF reports that waterways were deemed unsafe for swimming after rain fell across the region June 16-17, in the Sucker, Tiber and Hudson branches in Ellicott City, as well as locations in Baltimore City and County.

The foundation posted all of its accumulated testing data on its website. Before clicking, steel yourself to learn that Howard County readings are often among the highest in the area.

While this news may shock many, it comes as no surprise to Savage residents. Savage is the last stop on the effluent train to the Little Patuxent Water Reclamation plant (aka the only sewage treatment plant owned and operated by HoCo).

I want to share 4 stories to illustrate that HoCo should be held accountable because ( a.) sewage spills throughout the County and/or malfunctions at HoCo’s only sewage treatment plant are not rare or new phenomena and (b.) decision makers continue to come down in favor of “developer rights” over protection of the water quality of our watershed.  (a) plus (b) = Bad Neighbor….not to mention  a raw deal for residents.

water pipe1.)   On Friday July 29th, just one day before the historic Ellicott City flooding, nearly 2 million gallons of sewage overflowed into the Patuxent River (a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay).  Howard County officials cleared a blocked sewer line suspected of causing the overflow. The line connects to the Little Patuxent Water Reclamation plant.  The Anne Arundel Health Dept. issued an emergency closing of the Patuxent from the Howard County line to the BW Parkway. The City of Laurel (in Prince George’s Co.) closed their Riverfront Park and cautioned people to stay out of the water and off the paths until further notice. Thanks, neighbor!

(Ironically, HoCo recently completed a very expensive pumping station project near the county line and a proposed TOD (transportation oriented) development in North Laurel. I don’t begrudge a penny spent on the pumping station structure which encases the equipment that enables sewage to be pumped uphill to the treatment plant. It is probably the most attractive new building along the Rt 1 corridor in decades….but that’s a story for another day.)

2.)   Three days after the recent flash flood, it was recognized that sewer lines broken in the EC devastation had been dumping 5 million gallons per day into the Sucker Branch tributary of the Patapsco River. That overflow was one of several reported in the Baltimore area, including two others which dumped more than 50,000 gallons of sewage into Patapsco tributaries. The Ellicott City spill was 100 times greater than those! Again occurring at a border, Baltimore County and then Baltimore City were the recipients. Thanks, neighbor!

Before you decide to go panning for gold in the Patapsco, to recover lost jewelry swept from the Main Street shops, I suggest you do an e-coli check!

IMG_10113.)  Looking back, there was a significant rainfall in the Spring of 2014, causing the Middle and Little Patuxent Rivers to rise rapidly. The flood water carried a heavy load of dead trees, construction debris, etc. as it raged down the river.  (Savage lies just beyond the confluence of the two rivers, i.e. where they come together.  Vast areas of forest along the Middle Pax have been cleared for3 new LARGE developments along the river.) The debris hit the new concrete columns for the manholes to the new parallel sewer line with such force that some were broken apart. Other manhole covers were pushed or blown off.  As a result, sewage left the system.

IMG_1036When residents emerged in the morning to judge how high the river had risen, they were greeted with the site of sodden toilet tissue and tampons along the park trail!  While having sewage come out was gross and grossly unhealthy for locals, it was only part of the issue.  Sediment filled river water was sucked into the opened sewer lines in quantities exceeding what the treatment plant could handle.  Consequently the contents, both water and untreated sewage, were allowed to by-pass the plant untreated….. and flow down the river into Anne Arundel County. Thanks, neighbor!

Despite worsening conditions in the watershed, a high density development, the Settlement at Savage Mil,l is proposed for the ridge atop the steep slopes to the Little Pax. The density assures stripping of the entire 5 acres in direct defiance of the zone created specifically to protect the environmental and historic nature of the site.  Rather than consider requiring the developer to reduce the density, the County is contemplating providing additional park land for them ‘to use’ and return. The problem is that  stable forested land ‘used’ will be either returned re-graded and planted with saplings or covered in impervious pavement.

Interestingly, waterways like the Little Pax behind my home are stocked annually so fisherman can enjoy the experience. We’re told the invasive snakehead fish is quite tasty and are encouraged to catch as many as possible for dinner.  I hope none of our restaurants featuring ‘locally harvested goods’ are getting fish from HoCo waterways.

4.) Both the Ulman and Kittleman administrations have had the opportunity to stop destruction of one of the last Tier 2 high quality streams in the County.  Neither administration supported the well founded pleas of Clarksville residents to not allow the development of a large commercial mortuary in a residential zone where homes are on well and septic.  Neither administration responded to the pleas of residents from Prince George’s and Montgomery Counties either.  Those residents (AND those from the southeastern part of HoCo) were understandably concerned. Any pollution resulting from the septic system or the handling, storage and disposal of bio-hazardous waste at the proposed Mortuary site will go from the pristine Carroll Branch to the WSSC reservoir which provides drinking water to our communities. Thanks, neighbor!

Having been an observer of development patterns in HoCo for a while, the ‘mortuary deal’ makes me quite suspicious. Is the underlying intent to allow the mortuary’s septic system to prove problematic once in use….thus creating the need to extend the sewer lines further west, opening more land to more dense development??? Let’s keep an eye on that one!

 Remind HoCo that government’s first obligation is to operate in a manner that protects the health, safety, and welfare of its taxpayers.  But let’s also remind them to remember the Golden Rule and also extend that protection to our neighbors.

Remind them often, refuse to accept less—and meet me on the highroad,