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(Posted by Fred Tutman.)
(This is fourth in an ongoing series of posts on What’s It Going to Take?: A look at how the environmental community can regain the initiative and build the political will necessary to clean up the Chesapeake Bay.)
Who doesn’t want to see our Bay, rivers, or streams restored to health? So it raises the legitimate question of why something coveted by so many, continues to elude us? The irony is that virtually everybody wants clean water until they have to actually sacrifice or take proportional measures in order to get it. Sure, clean water is great as long we can win the next election, make the maximum profit on the next construction job, maintain the waterfront view, get jobs and economic development, and if nobody will get upset.
Let’s face it, building rain gardens, planting trees, and conducting trash cleanups next to the river simply don’t compensate for all the chicken manure, poorly regulated sewage plants, coal waste and stormwater runoff pouring into our streams and rivers. Do the water quality losses outweigh the gains? The deplorable state of our region’s waterways suggests that is exactly the case. It seems somehow that perfectly good environmental programs have become an end unto themselves instead of a means toward an end. As long as all stakeholders do no more than is expedient while mouthing the best of intentions, then the status quo continues even when the best that we are collectively inclined to do voluntarily is insufficient. So, what’s it going to take to clean up the Bay? Literally speaking, making protection of water compulsory, since voluntary hasn’t worked.
And for those who argue that cleaning up the environment will cost us jobs and economic development–what was the first clue that our economy is affected by both prudent and poor stewardship of natural resources? It has always been obvious that wrecking the waterways is a faster and easier “buck” than protecting them. Our big tactical mistake as an environmental community is to have given folks the impression that they can have clean water without changing business as usual; while maintaining jobs that pollute; and by adopting a collaborative posture with enterprises that inherently profit from pollution. As a result, when we try and propose genuine solutions that are proportional to the environmental problems, our adversaries act as though we pulled the rug out from under them.
It is simply not possible to clean up the Bay if we generally promote good news as a lure to make the public feel positive about what is being done.
Truthfully, the only changes that will be reflected in measurable water quality gains are the ones that are compulsory and that require systemic reforms. The sort of change that at times disrupts accustomed ways of doing business, how we lead our daily lives, and make our money. Isn’t it interesting that on the eve of the implementing the watershed implementation plans and the long awaited “Total Maximum Daily Loads” that various industry groups are filing challenges, declining to participate, and crying foul? It reveals at last that while these measures were always implied, that some of us only intended to abide by them up until the point these measures became mandatory.
Plainly, what it will take to clean up the bay, is to actually do it.