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.

Saving the Bay

(Posted by Gerald Winegrad)

My name is Gerald Winegrad and I’m worried about the future of the Chesapeake Bay. I grew up in Annapolis and spent many a summer day with my friend Michael Bailey fishing all around Annapolis.  Michael Bailey is now dead and the Bay is dying.

Earlier this month, my wife and I were planning our big annual end of summer crab feast on our deck on Oyster Creek south of Annapolis.  We have two crab pots and had a dozen crabs to share but for 22 family members, I had to find a bushel of nice ones. So I called local waterman (a dying breed) who I knew from years back and tried to order a bushel of crabs.  He had sold me a busting bushel of fat Jimmies in May but told me an incredibly sad story: Now, when crabs should be plentiful, he could not catch even a bushel because dead water had killed every crab in his pots in the West River.  He was saddened not just because his livelihood was hurt, but at the terrible waste caused by oxygen deprived water killing every crab.

I got off the phone nearly in tears just at the thought of how bad things were going with the Chesapeake.  As a State legislator, I tried my best for 16 years to turn things around.  I was there in December 1983 when the Bay states and the federal EPA solemnly declared their intentions to turn the decline of the Bay around and signed the first Chesapeake Bay Agreement (pdf).  Despite this pledge and nearly 27 years of efforts under the voluntary-collaborative Chesapeake Bay Program, the Bay is in dismal shape. In many ways, it is worse off today than when the multistate restoration effort began.

We have so poisoned our waters that reports abound of serious infections in people who have come in contact with Bay water and now, even their dogs are becoming infected. Fish kills are common, rockfish are contaminated with mercury, catfish have been found to have cancerous lesions, male bass from the Potomac are turning up with female egg sacs, and swimmers are advised to avoid the bay and its tributaries after heavy rains.  One Washington Post story compared the Bay after it rains to an unflushed toilet.

There was a time when bright-eyed environmentalists tried to frighten the lethargic public into action with doomsday scenarios. But for the Bay, the nightmare has become reality! It is important to remember that the Bay did not naturally reach its polluted state. The Bay is dying from nutrient and sediment pollution from farm fertilizers and farm manure from chickens and other livestock, from polluted runoff from developed acreage where trees and wetlands have been destroyed, from power plants burning coal and cars burning gasoline, from human sewerage coming from treatment plants and septic tanks, and from lawn chemicals.  The bay watershed has grown from 8 million people in 1950 to 17 million now and development to accommodate those people has sprawled across the landscape devouring forests and wetlands, key components of a healthy bay ecosystem.

So, rather than go off simply gnashing my teeth at this depressing scenario, I helped form a broad consortium of senior Chesapeake Bay scientists, policy makers, and Bay advocates to foment the needed changes.  In a boat flotilla landing in June 2010 at the historic Annapolis City Dock, we called on Bay states to adopt 25 bold new initiatives to restore the Chesapeake Bay. The group cited the failure of the nearly 27-year-old voluntary, collaborative approach under the EPA Bay Program and the repeated failure of the states to meet deadlines for pollution reduction goals.

This remarkable group of Bay leaders from Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania unanimously agreed on the bold—even radical—steps that must be taken to stop the continued degradation of the Bay.  The Bay leaders called for the states to aggressively pursue the pollution limits (TMDLs) set by the EPA and to adopt the 25 essential measures in their comprehensive Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP).

New actions are called for especially for nonpoint sources of Bay-choking nutrients and sediment from the major source of Bay pollution, agriculture, and from abusive land development. Without such aggressive actions in nutrient and sediment loading from agriculture and development the prestigious group concluded the Bay is doomed.

The 25 steps include stricter regulation of the dumping of tons untreated excrement from chickens and other farm animals on land, precision farming to reduce Bay-choking pollutants, and tough new requirements to prevent pollution from development and for protecting forest cover.

While finding that reducing agricultural nutrients and sediment loadings may be the immediate challenge, offsetting the effects of population growth and development by 100% is essential to maintaining any progress made by other sectors. Better growth control measures are essential.  A new requirement for no net increases in stormwater discharge rate, volume, and pollutants for all new development is advocated.  The Bay leaders also urged the states to implement a retrofit requirement for existing developed areas and that a no net loss of forest coverage in the Bay watershed be mandated with expanded forested buffer coverage for at least 85 percent of all the shores of the Bay and its tributaries.  Expedited removal of polluting nutrients from sewerage treatment plants is also advocated.

We have been meeting with Bay cabinet officers in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and DC, and have detailed their 25 measures to the other Bay states, with Virginia refusing to meet to discuss them.

View our statement on the 25 steps necessary to Save the Bay, and leave me a comment below.

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