May 14, 2009

Things looking up for Chesapeake Bay?

An Obama executive order just declared the Chesapeake a "national treasure."

What does that mean? It should mean that the federal government (EPA, Departments of Transportation and Agriculture, etc.) will take a new leadership role in cleaning up the Chesapeake. We now await a draft statement within 120 days on what regulatory changes AND ENFORCEMENT POLICIES are needed to restore water quality in the bay.

Simply enforcing 1972's Clean Water Act would be a good start. It could be a big stick--if they actually enforced it. Can anyone say "penalty"? The Chesapeake Bay Foundation sued the EPA in January, 2009 for this sort of inaction.

All five states surrounding the bay (plus D.C.) just released new two-year goals for reducing nitrogen and phosphorus pollution--as from sewage discharge and run-off from poultry farms AND LAWNS. Yes, I'm talking about that excess fertilizer that's devoted to your green lawn.

By 2011, these states pledged to reduce nitrogen pollution by an additional 6.9 million pounds, and phosphorus pollution by another 463,948 pounds. However, at that rate, it might not happen in my lifetime. That reduction in nitrogen is actually only a 6 percent reduction. . . and the EPA and Chesapeake Bay area states had promised in 2000 to have the amount down to 175 million pounds by 2010. Can anyone say "back-tracking"?

And now they want to push back bay cleanup by setting a new deadline of 2025? Yikes. Back in 1987, these same states set a deadline of 2000! Then they extended it to 2010.

At least some dollars are coming our way to reach this goal. The Daily Press reports, "Thanks to the federal stimulus bill, $77 million will go to upgrading sewage treatment plants and sewer systems and to other projects in the state. None is in our area, but we will benefit from projects that cut pollution coming downriver. For instance, big dollars will help Richmond and Lynchburg fix sewer systems that spill raw sewage into the James. The second piece of good news is more than twice as big: $186 million in bonds to fund a loan program for more projects statewide. Some will come to us to clean up two Hampton Roads Sanitation District plants and upgrade area sewer systems to cut sewage spills."

Recent improvements in the bay--such as an increase in blue crab populations and underwater grasses--give us some hope. But the 17 million folks who live in the Chesapeake watershed should demand bigger signs of improvement. Our grandchildren might never regard the Chesapeake as a "national treasure" unless more is done soon.