Open Letter From Sen. Dyson to State Water Quality Advisory Committee

August 3, 2006

Mr. Frank Wise
Maryland State Water Quality Advisory Committee
1800 Washington Boulevard, Suite 440
Baltimore, MD 21230

Dear Mr. Wise and fellow members:

I am deeply concerned about the quality of our beaches in St. Mary’s County, which I represent, as well as the state in general. A July 23 story in our local newspaper, St. Mary’s Today, first alerted me to this problem. I was further discouraged by a story in yesterday’s Washington Post which was written two weeks after the St. Mary’s Today report. The Post’s story’s headline read “Health Worries Over Bay Pollution.”

The St. Mary’s Today Headline in its July 23, 2006 edition was a little more blunt. It read “Swimmers Beware of Human [Waste].” Notice I’ve inserted another word to replace the last one in the St. Mary’s Today headline so as not to offend some of you. The article cites two beaches in St. Mary’s County and five in Charles County—part of which I also represent—that have issued safety warnings to prospective bathers by their collective health departments.

The Post quotes a report issued by the Natural Resources Defense Council citing “Beaches in St. Mary’s County in Southern Maryland and Kent on the Eastern Shore rank among the state’s worst offenders in the national report.”

Quite frankly, this is outrageous. And I’m tired of these reports. I’m angry with empty promises about what we are doing to clean the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. We should not have polluted beaches in this great State. We should not have a dirty Bay.

During this year’s General Assembly Session, I introduced a bill along with Delegate Sue Kullen which was requested by former Senator Bernie Fowler. The original intent of the legislation was to require sewage treatment plants to be upgraded on the Patuxent River—a major waterway into the Chesapeake Bay. Senator Fowler, Delegate Kullen and I were extremely optimistic that this would be landmark legislation that would finally get us started toward the ultimate goal of cleaning the Bay. My bill included the co-sponsorship of Senate President Mike Miller, Finance Chairman Thomas McLain Middleton and Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Chair Paula Hollinger.

Our hopes were dashed when special interests saw the bill, objected stenuously to the sacrifices they would have to make to clean up the Patuxent—and ultimately the Bay. They ultimately gutted the bill which at least brought attention to the matter if nothing else. Sadly, Governor Ehrlich let the billl go into law without his signature showing his non-commitment to the issue of clean water.

Gutting good clean water bills constantly happens. We start with good intentions and then special interests such as developers use their big money to kill good environmental legislation.

The governor champions his Bay Restoration Fund, commonly known as the flush tax, as his crowning environmental achievement. I have stood before this committee and some of you have agreed with my concerns that this fund is not doing what it was intended to do. Instead of upgrading current sewage plants, I fear this flush tax is paying for modern sewage plants that have no other purpose but to accommodate more development along our waterways.

This matter has become even more important over the past few days as we are encountering a tremendous heat wave and people are seeking the comfort of our local waterways to cool off. Thanks to the Post and the St. Mary’s Today, some of these bathers now know it is potentially dangerous to swim in what were once pristine waterways. But do others?

Just this week, a concerned citizen visited my office and expressed deep concern about what he said was a red tide that recently swept into St. Jerome’s Creek in St. Mary’s County. At my direction, he has filed a formal complaint with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the Maryland Department of the Environment. I support his complaint 100 percent. He is worried about the health of his neighbors. So am I. When I hear that people may have gastrointestinal problems or skin rashes caused by swimming in our local waters, I get very angry.

I remember as a small boy swimming in the Potomac and Patuxent rivers as well as the Chesapeake Bay. The water in those days was pristine. No more. This committee is tasked with finding ways to make our water clean and safe once again!

That is why as the Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on the Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays Critical Area, I am asking that this committee release to the public and the press a strong condemnation of this outrageous lack of oversight by our federal, state and local governments. When it comes to Maryland’s beaches, stories such as what ran in the St. Mary’s Today and the Washington Post are an embarrassment to this great state.

Maryland Senator Roy Dyson


Washington Post: Health Worries Over Bay Pollution

Polluted Water Warnings issued by County Governments:

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