After decades of effort, the voluntary, collaborative approach to restoring the health and vitality of the Chesapeake Bay— the largest estuary in the United States—has not worked and, in fact, is failing. A diverse group of 57 senior scientists and policymakers have joined forces to save the Bay. This is our plan.

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Category Archives: Report Cards

Using Development to Drive Bay Recovery

(Posted by Erik Michelsen.)

According to the Chesapeake Bay Program’s estimates, pollution from urban and suburban stormwater runoff is the only sector where nutrient loads are currently growing in the bay watershed. On much of the western shore of the Chesapeake, including the Baltimore-Washington metro counties, agriculture is an increasingly rare land use, shifting daily to the eastern shore or Midwest. And in Maryland, the Bay Restoration Fund (aka “Flush Tax”) is being used to upgrade wastewater treatment plants to the best available technology. Yet, these areas consistently suffer from some of the worst water quality in the Chesapeake region (see EcoCheck Chesapeake Bay Report Cards).

In the face of Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) limits, a sputtering economy, and cash-strapped governments, if we are going to improve water quality in our local rivers and the bay, we’re going to have to get creative. The development of Phase II Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs) by local governments throughout the bay watershed has made it more apparent than ever that in order to have any chance of reversing the damage caused by urban and suburban runoff in our lifetime, each local government needs to create a dedicated source of funds for the maintenance and retrofit of stormwater practices. Funding these efforts from the general fund or through inadequate fees on new development has been an abject failure, and without a serious approach, modeled upon the way that municipal drinking water and wastewater infrastructure is maintained and expanded, we shouldn’t expect any improvement in this arena. During the upcoming legislative session, a number of organizations will continue to push for Maryland to adopt a state requirement that local governments put these dedicated funds in place as well as create revenue streams to fill them.

Dedicated funding to tackle the existing backlog of stormwater work is a huge piece of the clean-up puzzle, but what about the fact that as new development comes into the watershed, or existing sources of pollution (e.g., wastewater treatment plants) grow, additional pollution will be added to already heavily impaired waterways? With the promulgation of the bay TMDL by EPA in late 2010, pollution reduction targets are in place, and new pollutant loads, whether they be from stormwater, wastewater, or another source, must be “offset” so as not to worsen the condition of either the bay or the local tributary into which the site discharges. The exact form that this offset or “trading” program will take is still under development, but a well-devised plan can not only foster truly “smart” growth in the bay watershed, but also enlist it as a powerful tool in the improvement of water quality.

I recognize that this will be difficult for many to believe or accept—after all, we’ve been bombarded with the mantra that “development is killing the bay” for decades – but what if, as a condition of new development, local governments required developers to upgrade existing septic systems, restore broken streams and wetlands, and convert farm fields into forests? In certain respects, the change is no different than current “adequacy of public facilities” laws that are on the books, and that pertain to school or sewer capacity. Our waterways are the ultimate “public facilities”, and their current condition is, with very few exceptions, completely inadequate.

The notion of “trading pollution” is distasteful to some and has surely been manipulated by others, but it’s important to recognize that even in the absence of any new growth, our rivers and the bay will remain badly broken, but that by harnessing the inevitable growth that will come to the bay watershed as a partner in improving water quality, we add another important tool to the toolbox of bay recovery.

The Anacostia River Plunge

(Posted by Howard Ernst.)

For the last decade I have written, talked, and sometimes even done things to promote clean water in the Chesapeake Bay region and beyond. But one thing I have always refused to do was to participate in that unique Chesapeake Bay tradition known as “the wade-in.”

The practice was made popular by my good friend and trusted ally, former Maryland State Sen. Bernie Fowler, who has conducted his wade-in for more than two decades. As regular as the fish that return to the Bay each spring, on the second Sunday in June, Sen. Fowler and his followers return to the banks of the Patuxent to see how far they can walk in the water before their shoes become obscured by the thick flow of agricultural pollution, mud, and sewage that plague that troubled river. Politicians make speeches, friends are acknowledged for their hard work, and Bernie loses sight of his feet at about 30 inches (never much different than the year before).Continue Reading

Healthy Bay = Healthy Economy

(Posted by Fred Tutman.)

On May 20, 2011, Waterkeepers Chesapeake, along with other Maryland-based Waterkeepers staged an historic event in Annapolis at the City Dock. Firing up their patrol boats, the Riverkeepers, accompanied by a crowd of supporters, motored into Annapolis in a Flotilla of Boats in order to make a point. On the day the Governor was signing (or vetoing) new legislation in the Maryland statehouse, this group of water advocates wanted to make sure that both the public and the legislature understood that time is running out to save our waterways. It’s time for deeds–not just promise–in order to bring about necessary change. Continue Reading

Chesapeake Bay Report Card: “Don’t Bring Me No Bad News”

(Posted by Bill Dennison.)

This year’s Chesapeake Bay report card, produced by EcoCheck, a partnership between NOAA and the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, was released last week. The overall report card score was a C-, based on data collected throughout 2010. Unfortunately, this report card score declined from the 2009 report card which was a C, and this was the first time the score declined since 2004. Of the fifteen reporting regions, only two had higher scores than last year, but nine had lower scores, leaving four with no change. Continue Reading

Comparing Two Icons: Chesapeake Bay and the Great Barrier Reef

Posted by Bill Dennison.

The Integration and Application Network has been working with various groups in Queensland, Australia to produce an environmental report card for the Great Barrier Reef, modeled in some ways after the Chesapeake Bay report card. Comparisons between the two large ecosystems can be made and these comparisons can provide insight into both Chesapeake Bay and the Great Barrier Reef.Great Barrier ReefContinue Reading