Clean water requires everyone's help

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I am writing in response to Sen. E.J. Pipkin's letter to the editor in which he called me the state's land planning czar ("O'Malley is waging war on rural Maryland," Feb. 26). The senator may think such name-calling and his "war on rural Maryland" slogan is strategic for him. However, it is bad for rural, suburban, and urban Maryland. This type of rhetoric damages the "One Maryland" approach that has helped bind all of the state's communities together for many years. As a matter of fact, the state provides more assistance per capita in rural counties than it does in the more suburban and urban counties in Central Maryland.

The senator's letter tries to diminish the need to address nutrient pollution from septic systems and sprawl effects of major residential subdivision developments on agricultural and forest land. The O'Malley Administration, General Assembly and many citizens worked hard over the last couple of years to address these tough issues and the result is the Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act of 2012 (also known as the septics law), passed by the General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. Martin O'Malley last year.

Pollution from septic systems continues to increase while that from other sources such as agriculture and wastewater treatment plants continues to decrease. For example, nitrogen pollution from agriculture decreased by more than 1 million pounds, while nitrogen pollution from sewage treatment decreased by almost 100,000 pounds between 1985 and 2010 in the Upper Eastern Shore system of rivers (within the senator's district). This was during a time when population grew in our rural towns. Meanwhile, nitrogen pollution from septic systems in this same area increased by more than 100,000 pounds thereby erasing the progress made in reductions from waste water treatment plants in this region. In Maryland, septic systems account for 7 percent of the nitrogen pollution. In some rivers, it is as high as 33 percent. In addition, the rate of land consumption for residential subdivisions on farm and forest land is eight times larger per house than those in most suburbs and towns.

Maintaining his anti-urban theme, the senator attempts to characterize the septics law as an urban approach to addressing these issues. The fact is that the law is mostly modeled after Worcester County's approach to addressing growth on its forest and agricultural land — hardly an "urban" approach to these issues.

The senator's letter incorrectly states that 12 of Maryland's 23 counties have not submitted septic tier maps outlined in the law as a symbol of opposition to it. Some of these remaining counties have not submitted tier maps either because they are not required to do so, their inventory of existing platted lots on farmland exceeds demand or they already have protections in place that closely parallel the provisions of the law and therefore do not see the need. Others are still working on their tier maps.

The claim that the law is stealing property rights and devaluing land is unfounded. It allows minor residential subdivisions in even the most restricted areas. While this is a complex issue, data show that the value of property does not decrease just because zoning or related land use regulations change.

Restoring the health of our streams, rivers and the Chesapeake and coastal bays requires everyone to do their part, and we are seeing some of the fruits of this labor. Let's continue the One Maryland team approach and not let folks try to put Marylanders at odds with each other.

Richard E. Hall, Baltimore

The writer is secretary of the Maryland Department of Planning.

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