Local Commentary

A Penny for Your Thoughts: News of Greater Falls Church

Report cards can be the bane of a student, who figures that grades are left behind upon graduation. However, report cards have become a popular tool for advocacy groups and associations to rate how well, or not so well, their particular interest area is faring. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), based in Reston, this month released its 2009 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, and the grades were not good. In fact, they were very poor across the 15 subjects (from Aviation to Wastewater), resulting in an overall grade of D.

The president of ASCE, Wayne Klotz, discussed the 2009 report card with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Local Government Advisory Committee (LGAC), a group of 29 local and state officials from across the country, at their spring meeting in Washington, D.C. last week. Receiving highest marks, a C+, was Solid Waste, reflecting improved recycling and recovery efforts, but ASCE noted a serious concern about the increasing volume of electronic waste and the lack of uniform regulations for its disposal. E-waste and e-scrap is a continuing focus of the National Association of Counties’ Solid and Hazardous Waste Subcommittee, which I chaired until last summer. Although some jurisdictions, notably Washington State, passed legislation regarding the handling and disposal of e-waste and e-scrap, a national policy from Congress is needed to address this burgeoning challenge.

The worst grades, D-, were reserved for five sectors: drinking water, inland waterways, levees, roads, and wastewater. The Washington region is fortunate to have advanced drinking water and wastewater treatment plants serving its several million residents, but upgrading aging plants and meeting existing and future federal regulations means that much greater investments must be made, resulting in higher water and sewer bills to keep pace. It is no surprise to anyone in the metro area that roads also received a D-. The ASCE report card noted that one-third of America’s major roads are in poor or mediocre condition, and that 45 percent of major urban highways are congested.

As with most report cards, there were suggestions for improvement from ASCE. Increasing federal leadership; developing national, state, and regional infrastructure plans; and addressing lifecycle costs and ongoing maintenance were among their recommendations. ASCE also estimated the five-year investment needed overall to begin to address infrastructure needs is $2.2 trillion! More information about the report card may be accessed at www.asce.org/reportcard.

Another report, called the Bay Barometer, also was the subject of discussion at the LGAC meeting last week. The Bay Barometer focuses on the health of the Chesapeake Bay and its 64,000 square mile watershed, which have tremendous economic, historical, cultural, and ecological value to our region and the entire country. Bay health – poor water quality, degraded habitats, and low fish and shellfish populations – averaged only 38 percent on the barometer, the same as in 2007. On a more positive note, restoration measures – reducing pollution, protecting watersheds, and fostering stewardship, among others – brought the barometer reading to 61 percent, a four percent increase from 2007. Of special note was oyster recovery work and habitat restoration. The goal of preserving seven million acres of land in the watershed also was met.

The Bay Barometer included seven ways residents can help restore and protect the Chesapeake Bay: pick up after your pet; volunteer for a watershed group; don’t fertilize your lawn; install a rain barrel and rain garden; use a phosphorus-free dishwasher detergent; drive your car less, and plant native trees and shrubs. More information is available on-line at www.chesapeakebay.net/helpthebay.aspx.

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