Although efforts to restore the Chesapeake Bay have been continuing for more than four decades, we are really at a unique turning point in the history of the nation’s largest estuary, where we can either take advantage of new EPA pollution limits…or lose our best chance for saving the Bay.
Dr. Donald Boesch, President of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science and a member of CBF’s Board of Trustees, explained “the moment in time” in an editorial published recently in the Annapolis Capital.
It is required reading for everyone who cares about the Bay:
By Donald Boesch
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation is developing a strategy to ensure that the Bay restoration goals are fully met by the 2025 deadline. It’s being called “A Moment in Time.” During discussions among CBF trustees, I made the point that we are not just facing a moment in time, but what I believe to be the moment in time, because I don’t think we will get another chance if we fail.
I have spent nearly 30 years as a scientist doing research on the Chesapeake Bay or facilitating the research of others. I have seen science develop and mature to the point that we know more about the Chesapeake than any comparable coastal ecosystem in the world.
We know why the bay has become degraded and what we need to do to restore it. While science is still needed to guide and monitor the recovery, our diagnosis and treatment regimen are as solid and reliable as they come.
But we as a society have repeatedly failed to complete the required regimen.
In 1987, the bay states and federal government formally committed to reduce nutrient pollution by 40 percent by the year 2000 in order to restore degraded water quality and the health of the bay. We failed miserably, but recommitted to achieve the goal by 2010, guided by some better numbers.
So remorseful were the states and the feds back in 2000 that they committed that if our voluntary approaches were not successful by 2010, mandatory requirements under the Clean Water Act would be forced. Fear of such tough medicine was meant to spur us on. While we made some progress, by 2010 we had not gotten much past half the way on our nutrient pollution goal.
It’s now time for the tough medicine.
We have entered the mandatory phase in which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is requiring the states to develop plans to reduce pollution to total maximum daily loads (TMDLs), a determined amount that the bay can tolerate and remain healthy.
This TMDL goal — not all that different than the one set for 2010 — has been pushed back 15 years to 2025. Yet, some state and local governments are acting like this is a new and arbitrary imposition rather than a lingering deficiency that must now be addressed. Agribusiness and development groups have even gone to court to challenge the whole premise of the TMDL.
Mind you, the new goal date is 38 years after the states and federal government first committed to a goal, and 25 years after the first goal was missed and the parties committed to move to mandatory approaches if they failed to meet the second goal.
That’s why I think that this is not just a moment in time, but the only moment our society will ever have to restore the bay.
As a scientist, I am trained to rely on empirical evidence rather than wishful thinking. There is just no evidence for concluding that we will have another chance after 2025 given the record of performance and additional mounting pressures that will result from population growth and climate change.
A whole generation will have passed during the struggle for bay restoration, with most of the public and those in charge in 2025 with no recollection of a healthy bay and previous commitment. They will be more willing to accept conditions as they are.
It doesn’t have to be that way. We know what needs to be done and I believe that we can find effective and more efficient ways to accomplish them.
It starts with taking responsibility for curbing one’s own pollution, whether one is a farmer, developer, industry or family. Collective investments through the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund (aka “flush fee”) are beginning to yield enormous benefits, but it will cost more to complete the job.
Sewage sludge and animal wastes can be recycled to fertilize crops, but this use must be better managed to achieve that end, rather just waste disposal on the land. We need to limit sprawling development with household wastes drained into pits in the backyard. And, we need more we need more wetlands and oysters to clean up the pollution we can’t control.
It’s that simple, really. We have less than 14 years and we — and only we — can restore the Chesapeake Bay.
(Article by Dr. Donald Boesch, President of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. Introduction by Tom Pelton of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.)