Monday, June 16, 2014

Fines and Fees Alone Won't Improve Water Quality

Are some local governments more interested in the revenue from fines and fees for environmental transgressions than achieving the underlying environmental goals?

Consider, for example, the fees charged to businesses for maintaining impervious surfaces like roofs and parking lots from which stormwater or snowmelt rushes to city sewers, burdening wastewater treatment plants.  Why aren’t those businesses motivated to install rain gardens and porous paving?

Or consider the apparent preference in many cities to fine construction contractors for silt running off bare ground or piles of excavated dirt into storm sewers during rainstorms, clogging the sewers and complicating wastewater treatment processes. 

From Macomb County Public Works website: "This is a portion of the 200 tons of sediment and debris that was removed from the Sharkey Drain..."

If contractors were compelled to install silt fencing between the exposed soil and city drains, then, region wide, thousands of tons of silt would be kept out of the sewers.  The willingness of contractors to pay the fines rather than remedy the problem indicates to me that the fines are too low.

In many municipalities, mayors, city managers and council people give loud and frequent lip service to environmental concerns and pass a multitude of resolutions and ordinances, but in the municipal departments where the rubber hits the road, those concerns and resolutions and ordinances often get short shrift.

Too frequently, those who do the legislating seem to think that’s the end of the problem, that their intent will be self-executing.  Either that or the city poobahs are throwing around terms like “environment” and “green” and “water quality” merely as cheap public relations gimmicks.

To meet and overcome these challenges, constant public vigilance and action are necessary.