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Percolating Our Way to a Cleaner Bay

Like coffee, Bay stewardship may be an acquired taste

Percolate is a big word in Chesapeake futures.
    Hereabouts, the same word once synonymous with how America made its coffee describes the best way for water from heaven, rainwater, and its gushing next stage, stormwater, to make its way back to our watershed. My mother’s percolator kept the brew cycling through the grinds, making coffee more watchable than drinkable as it spouted against the little glass top cap. In our watershed, drip coffee makes a better metaphor but not so particular a word.
    The comparison is that passing through the natural or constructed equivalent of grinds — rocks, roots and earth — water leaves its impurities behind, while if it rushed directly into sewers and waterways, stormwater would be a heady brew flavored with pollutants and sediment. Even apparently pure rainwater carries a load of exhaust pipe pollutants from vehicles and power plants.
    So neither drip nor percolate gets it quite right, for we want coffee water to pick up the flavor of its grinds while we mean for stormwater to leave its additives behind.
    Managing our stormwater so it percolates its deposits out is one of the top ways at work in cleaning up the Bay. Watch water running downhill during any torrent, and it seems like a pretty smart idea. But it’s a bumpy road between thought and action. After half a dozen years, Maryland’s stormwater management plan just can’t keep out of the news. Gov. Larry Hogan lives on Chesapeake Bay when he’s not in Government House, and there too he’s not far uphill from our defining natural resource. Yet just days ago he approved county stormwater management plans that substitute who-knows-what funding in place of the despised Rain Tax — which of course it really isn’t.
    Half of Maryland voters, according to a 2015 survey by the Clean Water, Healthy Families coalition, incorrectly believe that people will be taxed when it rains. Many voters are not sure, leaving only 29 percent who know they will not be taxed when it rains.
    Tax is one of those words to which our collective allergy has worsened since Republican Gov. Bob Ehrlich’s early 21st century bright idea that became the related Flush Tax. Year by year, we seem to have transferred much of the hatred Americans used to feel for communism, Nazism or fascism to our own government.
    That antagonism roiled a meeting I went to last month. It was a small gathering on Anne Arundel County’s plan to assess the Herring Bay watershed. Stormwater management money would be percolating way down to those little streams. The grumbling started when the presenters explained that this benefit was the drip down from President Barack Obama’s 2009 Executive Order putting the Bay on a pollution-reduction diet. Total Daily Maximum Loads of pollutants would set the Bay’s pollution calorie limits. Stormwater management plans help achieve one standard of reduction.
    Like storms, farms are another pollution-producer due for reduction. Money is percolating our way to help achieve those reductions, as well. Almost half a million dollars to accelerate conservation in the Chesapeake Bay watershed is up for grants in November for Maryland farmers to better manage farm animal wastes.
    One local farm, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Clagett Farm in Prince George’s County, has become the first farm in the state to adopt best management practices for achieving farm Total Daily Maximum Load goals ahead of schedule. By achieving Agricultural Certainty certification, Clagett Farm gains a 10-year exemption from new environmental laws and regulations. That, I suppose, makes sense if it’s ahead of the law.
    This is how percolation works. It involves us all, touches us all, rewards us all in this great work of cleaning up the Bay.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; editor@bayweekly.com
Plus a life in stories: www.sandraolivettimartin.com