I am writing to strongly disagree with [Rick] Hutzell’s editorial conclusion in a recent article that passage of the Whole Watershed Act this year would benefit Maryland’s streams and environment. Maybe if we give it another year of discussion and modification, it can be the environmental achievement its sponsors set out for it to be. But it is not yet that boon to Maryland streams.

It is understandable to think provisions of the proposed legislation (SB 969/HB 1165) would be good for the environment. Those include requiring expensive pilot studies and the licensing of stream restoration contractors. But unfortunately, the bill does nothing to fulfill the most urgent need: stopping the ongoing abuse of the restoration credit system in the form of unnecessary and destructive tear-it-up-and-rebuild-it stream restoration projects throughout Maryland.

We may want to believe otherwise, but heavily engineered approaches to stream work do not restore Maryland streams. In fact, the mature tree loss incurred to give access to the heavy equipment is profoundly harmful to the very stream valleys we set out to help. The replantings of saplings that are the finishing touches are little consolation because saplings are unlikely to survive in the absence of the tree canopy and fertile forest soil sacrificed to the demolition stage.

In lieu of tear-it-up-and-rebuild-it projects, we should be reducing the deadly pressures on natural stream systems so they can muster their remaining strength to survive. This means reducing storm runoff into them, which causes most of the problem in the first place. Upland, out-of-stream best management practices are already authorized for this purpose; they are just underutilized. Despite its title, the Whole Watershed Act misses the opportunity to initiate this useful course of action in routine stream work. Worse, it allows engineering firms to solicit the tear-it-up-and-rebuild-it project work from willing and perhaps less-well-informed neighborhoods. The legislation should instead require that such work be directed only to streams for which there is no other alternative, as determined by the state.

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Fortunately, a Wetlands and Waterways Program — Stream Restoration Projects bill (HB 1284) contains well-crafted provisions that could address these oversights, but time is very short. Clearly, the industry conducting tear-it-up-and-rebuild-it stream restorations is in favor of cementing the status quo in place and has a powerful voice in Annapolis. At this point, it would be best for the Maryland Legislature to put off acting on SB 969/HB 1165 this year so that these problems can be better addressed and more voices can be heard.

Allegra Cangelosi, Takoma Park

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