The Flush Tax Pays Off

I’ve written a couple of posts about protecting the Chesapeake Bay. Actually, I have written a lot of them. But one I have not covered is the Bay Restoration Fund, and it is an integral part of the Bay’s protection regime. Let’s look at why.

The Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund is designed to reduce nutrient loading in the Chesapeake Bay caused by wastewater. Like most places, we process wastewater from homes and, after some cleaning, the water gets dumped into a nearby water source. Usually, a stream or river because it will carry away the water. The wastewater cleaning process is good for removing toxic chemicals and solids in the water, but the process is not good at removing phosphorous or nitrogen. This lands in the Bay and will lead to eutrophication.

The Fund’s revenue source is a small user fee imposed on Maryland households using wastewater treatment systems. Currently, the fee is five dollars per month. The fee pays for upgrading wastewater treatment facilities to reduce nitrogen and phosphorous concentrations in effluent. That way, when the effluent hits the Bay, as it eventually will, the nutrient balance is kept close to normal. This will keep the Bay clear of harmful algae blooms, keeping everything else in the Bay alive. So we can enjoy crab this summer.

Maryland Crabs
Maryland Crabs

Of course, the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund became much derided as “The Flush Tax.” A lot of people felt like they shouldn’t have to pay for what they flush. That’s silly, but septic users were also forced to pay, despite not contributing to wastewater going to treatment plants. But they did contribute to the problem. Many septic systems infiltrate the wastewater directly into the ground, allowing both the septic system’s construction and the natural ground structure to clean the water. So septic users to contribute to nutrient loading in the Chesapeake, just through a different path. So septic users’ fees pay to upgrade septic systems or ground cover the reduces nutrient loading.

The downside, like many environmental problems, is that taxpayers object to paying the charge. This can stem from a few different sources. One major reason is that the connection between the fee and what it does is never really made in the taxpayer’s mind. Another problem is that some people do not understand why it is “suddenly” a problem. Of course, it has always been a problem, it’s just that we didn’t understand it or didn’t have the tools to fix it before. Finally, some taxpayers don’t appreciate the fact some policies have long-term effects and implications.

The best part, however, is that now 13 years after the Flush Tax was enacted, we now have evidence that is working. WJZ did a story about two weeks ago calling it “money well spent” as the results are clear: