For many years, I guest lectured in a course entitled “The Politics of Conservation”. My role was to describe the local government environmental agenda to a class of undergraduates who, like most average folks, were pretty naïve as to the workings of government in general. Yet, knowing the importance of the how and why we at the local level conduct our business, I always started my lecture by describing the three distinct levels of government. To do that, I used a metaphor that revolved around the Thanksgiving holiday. So as we all make final preparations to celebrate Thanksgiving, and likewise begin to address some significant environmental mandates, I figure this is a great time to share my metaphor with you.
You see, it all starts in Washington DC with the federal government deciding that the US should have a new holiday, called Thanksgiving, and celebrated by a feast. Congress passes legislation to that affect and just– like– that, the citizens of the US have a new holiday and the federal government moves on to the next pressing issue.
Thanksgiving then enters the realm of state government. This tier of lawmakers decides the feast will consist of a turkey, cranberry sauce, a vegetable (which could vary from state to state), plenty of mashed potatoes and of course pumpkin pie for desert. The state folks go further to codify the recipe in legislation, and then implement a permit program to certify who within their jurisdiction has the knowledge and capacity to actually make this feast happen.
Now we have the holiday, a menu, and the permit system in place that assures a splendid time for all. It is time for local government to enter the fray. The legislative specifics of the Thanksgiving holiday trickle down to those managing programs at the local government level. This is where the rubber meets the road. To that end, it is the local government that goes grocery shopping, cooks the meal, serves the meal, cleans up after the meal, and pays for everything.
Yes I know, not totally accurate; but the point is made. Local government has a lot of work to do, much of it defined by others who are distant to our needs, issues and financial capabilities. While many of the mandates defined by the wisdom of our federal and state partners are worthy endeavors, implementation is always a challenge. But, finding the funds to accomplish these mandates is the biggest challenge which is all too often passed from federal through state and on to local government.
Addressing implementation strategies and funding options to manage stormwater runoff is just one of the many program challenges we face as local government mangers here in Howard County. We understand the problem, we are aware of many solutions, yet we struggle to meet the permit timelines and the cost of compliance defined by federal and state mandates.
So, if you are the hosts of the Thanksgiving feast this year imagine for a moment you are a local government striving to meet the multiple challenges of serving your constituents. If, on the other hand, you are fortunate to be a guest at the table think like a concerned resident and chip in to help by setting the table, serving the meal, or doing the dishes. After all, Thanksgiving is about working together to enjoy a good meal and a good time with friends and family.
Similarly, when it comes to managing our stormwater runoff pollution, we all need to chip in and help with our time, effort and money to improve our water quality and in turn the Chesapeake Bay.