Leaving a strong environmental legacy is something most of us want to do for the next generation. For elected officials, that legacy can reach far over time and space. 2018 is the last year of the three-term administration of Montgomery County Executive Isiah “Ike” Leggett. For most of the past eleven years, Ike and the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) championed clean water programs in collaboration with the Stormwater Partners Network. Through its dedicated staff, and supported with citizen participation, DEP has won national awards for its watershed protection and restoration, biological monitoring, and green infrastructure programs. Unfortunately, Executive Leggett is considering some shortsighted and damaging decisions that could put water quality at risk before he leaves office.
The Water Quality Protection Charge supports programs that create comprehensive stormwater fixes. This modest charge, roughly $100 per household annually, is equitable because it follows the principle of “polluter pays.” Every square foot of impervious (paved) surface causes regular rain to turn into water pollution, by sending the water “whooshing” into our streams where it scours out the banks and causes erosion and habitat loss, and batters water pipes, driving up maintenance and replacement costs on aging water infrastructure, among many other problems. We all contribute to the problem and, by paying the charge and supporting the program, we all contribute to the solution.
What does the solution look like? DEP uses this funding to install projects all throughout the county along public and private property that capture, slow down, and spread out this whooshing water before it reaches our streams. DEP has committed to using 60% green infrastructure that mimics natural properties and provides habitat value, filters the air, and many other benefits, instead of grey infrastructure (like more pipes and holding tanks). DEP needs steady and full funding to install all the projects planned over the past few years. We also expect DEP and the entire Leggett Administration to make good on their commitment to use 60% green infrastructure in the stormwater program.
In his last year in office, Executive Leggett is considering some decisions that could put these critical programs at risk. In the name of efficiency, he is considering reducing expected funding to the program by flat lining the Water Quality Protection Charge. Leggett is also considering privatizing more of the stormwater management program. While privatization models up to and including a public-private partnership have their advantages, they are not proven to be more efficient than government-managed programs. Learn more about this issue by reading this blog post from the Center for Watershed Protection.
The Leggett Administration’s legacy of open government and citizen collaboration is also at risk. While the funding and privatization changes have been in the works for some time, citizens were kept in the dark. After months of unanswered inquiries, Stormwater Partners Network leaders met with Executive Leggett in late February; at that meeting we heard about the search for efficiency and the need to keep the stormwater fee affordable. We expressed skepticism about privatizing our clean water programs, and asked Executive Leggett to return to an open and collaborative working relationship with citizens – including the Stormwater Partners.
We continue to support the work of the dedicated DEP staff, in finding efficient ways to retrofit our urban landscape so that it’s stream-friendly.