Townsend describes potential for statewide clean-water fee


What would it cost to clean Delaware’s waters?

State Sen. Bryan Townsend said an extra $100 million per year would be nice. But Delaware’s Clean Water Task Force is approaching a more realistic recommendation of $20 million per year to start problem-solving.

A clean-water fee could be one of many suggestions that the Clean Water & Flood Abatement Task Force makes in its final report, due April 30.

As a task force co-chair, Townsend explained the potential proposal to the Inland Bays Foundation on March 8.

“We have the cleanest beaches on the East Coast. We do not have the cleanest inland bays,” said IBF President Nancy Cabrera-Santos. “It’s because we’re a farm state.”

Delaware needs to mitigate the impact of storm water runoff and outdated septic systems, she said.

It’s also a moral issue, said Townsend

Elected in 2012, Townsend (D-Newark) said he learned that more than 90 percent of Delaware waterways are impaired.

“We have the technology to fix this issue. We just need the political will. That was spring of 2014. There was no immediate action” after election season, Townsend said. “It should be a no-brainer that we clean up our waterways.”

In 2015, the Delaware General Assembly created the task force to recommend potential funding ideas to improve water quality and alleviate flooding in Delaware.

“At the end of the day, this is going to involve more funding,” because the State hasn’t moved lately to augment the slump in federal funding.

One funding proposal is a three-tiered system: perhaps $45 per household, $100 per small business and $500 per big business.

Of course, those are just recommendations. The General Assembly must introduce and pass any fee or tax increases.

Are the perpetrators water pollution paying for the damage they caused? Not completely, Townsend said. Some pollution-causing companies are long gone. Some still provide good jobs to Delaware citizens.

The idea was a compromise, also, as the agricultural community was very vocal during the meetings. Yes, fertilizers might have caused much of the problem, too, but they also provided jobs, so how does anyone decide appropriate reparations?

As a result, the committee is just looking at a flat fee for everyone going forward, rather than looking back.

“We acknowledged that the only way to make movement now … is to take a broader approach … to have cleaner water up and down Delaware,” Townsend said. “I understand the incompleteness of that. I see the environmental injustice in that.”

But what about the people who can’t afford an extra $45 per year? Hopefully, those communities will benefit from grants to improve their water, Townsend said.

“I come from an area of Delaware where the educational system is deeply, deeply fractured,” and public referenda don’t get far. “Sometimes, by pooling people’s resources, you can have a better outcome.”

The Kent and Sussex county economies especially rely on clean water, while New Castle County may be paying more than they get, “but it still stays within the state to help drive the ultimate Delaware economy,” Townsend said.

“That also helps places where local elected officials are less likely to vote for this issue,” Townsend said. He said he hoped they realize the agricultural community has been more receptive to the proposed fee structure.

Citizens are being strongly encouraged to contact their elected officials if they have an opinion on something. Officials won’t know if an idea is popular or unpopular unless they hear feedback.

One woman in the audience was willing to pay such a fee but said she couldn’t stomach it until the State tells industrial companies to stop dumping.

The task force isn’t part of the State’s environmental enforcement system, although Townsend said he’d be willing to propose another task force to focus on the enforcement issue.

It’s not a perfect system, but Delaware will get farther by working together, he said.

The final report’s deadline was extended by three months, to April 30.

Flooding hasn’t gotten as much of the task force’s attention as Townsend had hoped, he said, simply because there wasn’t time.

The Clean Water Task Force has a webpage at www.cleanwaterdelaware.org, which includes a members list and meeting calendar.

A lifelong Delawarean, Townsend is running for the position of the state’s U.S. Congressman this fall.

The Inland Bays Foundation meets again Tuesday, April 12, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at Bethany Beach Town Hall.

Their special guest will be Chief Natosha Carmine, the first female chief of the Nanticoke Indian Tribe. She’ll discuss Nanticoke history and its close association with the Indian River.

More information is online at www.inlandbaysfoundation.org.