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Bay Restoration: Expensive If You Do, Expensive If You Don't

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The District, Virginia, Maryland and four other states are expected to tell the Environmental Protection Agency how they plan to reduce water pollution that flows into the Chesapeake Bay today. The EPA will then set a hard limit on how much pollution can enter the Bay. But one of the persistent arguments is over cost.

If states and D.C. are going to reduce pollution as the EPA has asked them to do, a number of things are going to have to happen. Farmers are going to have to do more to keep extra fertilizer from running off their land, urban areas are going to have to control the water that runs off roofs and gutters, wastewater treatment plants will have to upgrade.

Bob Goodlatte represents Virginia's 6th District and he's heard a lot from groups worried about the EPA's plan to set a hard limit on pollution from urban and agricultural runoff.

"The concern is very intense. The Virginia Farm Bureau, the American Farm Bureau, have taken a very strong stand against this, home builders are very concerned this will devastate home building. I've also heard from the localities in my district," Goodlatte says.

He says the basic problem is the cost: "We could lose these communities."

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has offered to help pay for some of the costs to farmers. But Mike Gerel, with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, say the arguments over cost are forgetting half of the equation.

"No one is talking about the benefits. No one is talking about the costs of inaction," Gerel says.

He says the Bay's poor water quality has cost the crab and oyster industries billions over the years.

"Seafood, tourism, recreation, property value -- all kinds of studies show when you're living near clean water, the value of your property goes up," Gerel says.

He argues that investing in recovery is a net positive, generating economic benefits and new jobs.

In a new report, the foundation says that for every $1 spent on agricultural conservation, $1.5 dollars is generated in jobs and other economic growth.

The fight will likely heat up after the EPA announces it's final rule at the end of the year.

WAMU 88.5

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