Chesapeake Bay Shows Progress But Critical Steps Await
The Chesapeake Bay is a national treasure. For more than 30 years, six bay states, the District of Columbia and several federal government agencies have worked in partnership to reverse the impact of a century of pollution. Until recently, however, the effort did little more than keep the bay from getting worse. That changed in 2010.
In settlement to a Clean Water Act lawsuit brought by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) and our partners, EPA committed to working on a new protocol with the states to meet pollution reduction goals. Each of the states developed their own strategies. Each committed to implement 60 percent by 2017 and 100 percent by 2025, and each state agreed to develop two-year plans to incrementally make progress toward the 2025 goal. Most importantly, those plans would be transparent, available to the public, monitored and reported on, regularly.
There was one more critical component. The states all agreed that EPA, the lead federal agency, should help ensure that all states meet their commitments. The bay is a single system, and if one state fails, all states will suffer.
Together, the state/federal partnership and the sequential implementation of two-year plans constitute the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. It is unique nationwide, and it is working! The bay is finally starting to show significant improvement.
Female crab numbers are up, oysters are rebounding and underwater grass beds have hit new records in each of the last four years. Pollution is down, the bay’s dead zone is getting smaller and the water has been clearer than at any time in the last four decades. As a result, CBF’s “2016 State of the Bay” report set the bay’s health as the best since our first report in 1998.
But the recovery is fragile. It is nascent. And if history has taught us anything, it is that these gains could easily be reversed.
All of us depend on clean local waters. A healthy Chesapeake Bay is one of the foremost economic engines of the region, providing billions in annual economic activity in travel and tourism, recreational pursuits, seafood industries and so much more.
The bay also supports local jobs. This amazing system of streams, rivers and vast brackish waters is critical to our quality of life, our property values and the drinking water needed to support continued business investment.
The value of clean water to our economies has been validated in study after study. A report from the Department of Commerce documents the contribution of the commercial seafood industry in Maryland and Virginia at nearly $3 billion and more than 31,000 jobs for the local economy. An EPA study finds that for every $1 spent on source-water protection, $27 is saved in water treatment costs.
There are other benefits to restoring local rivers and streams as well. Every time a farmer fences cattle out of a stream to protect local water quality, materials are purchased from local businesses. Every time a sewage treatment plant is upgraded, engineers and construction workers are employed.
A peer-reviewed report commissioned by CBF found that the economic benefits provided by nature in the Chesapeake Bay watershed will total $130 billion annually when the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint is fully implemented, up some $23 billion from pre-Blueprint status. However, if the Blueprint is not implemented, the benefits will decline by almost $6 billion, annually.
“The conclusion is clear: The region’s environmental and economic health will improve when we fully implement the Blueprint,” says economist Spencer Phillips, lead author of the report. “The clean-up plan was designed with the understanding that all people and communities in the watershed can contribute to making the bay cleaner, and that everyone will benefit when pollution is reduced. Our analysis confirms this.”
In Maryland alone, the state will enjoy an annual increase $4.6 billion a year.
Local businesses and their employees can do a great deal to help. Many non-profit organizations such as CBF, The Waterfront Partnership or the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay offer specific programs. Cleaning up local rivers and streams protects human health, creates jobs, and benefits local economies.
Let your elected officials hear from you. For information on how to contact them go to www.cbf.org/whatnext. I95
William C. Baker is the president of The Chesapeake Bay Foundation, cbf.org. Photos provided by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.