This Week in the Watershed

While the blue crab was recently found to tolerate higher levels of hypoxia than previously thought, they're not out of danger. Photo by Damon Fodge.

As any mountain climber can attest, reaching new heights brings with it increased difficulty. The decreasing amount of oxygen in the air makes every breath more trying, to the point where oxygen is needed through personal tanks. Even the best of athletes can find themselves out of breath when facing low-oxygen environments.

In the Chesapeake Bay, critters are finding themselves facing a similar obstacle, as increased dead zones and warming waters from our rapidly changing climate are decreasing the level of oxygen in the water. Known as hypoxia, this condition depletes the Bay of life, devastating the ecosystem.

While new research by the Virginia Institute of Marine Science reveals blue crabs are more resilient to hypoxic conditions than previously thought, other creatures it depends on for food are vulnerable. The threat is clear and the plan to save the Bay is desperately needed. The Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint, if implemented, can make a dramatic difference in bringing oxygen levels back to safe and healthy levels in the Bay. Now wouldn't that be a breath of fresh air!

This Week in the Watershed: Keystone Pollution, Environmental Literacy, and Blue Crabs

  • Agencies throughout Pennsylvania's state government are exploring ways to accelerate pollution reduction efforts in the Keystone State. (Lancaster Farming—PA)
  • The environmental literacy requirement in Maryland has been a huge success thus far. (What's Up Mag—MD)
  • How will blue crabs respond to increasing water temperatures due to climate change? New research reveals intriguing findings. (Daily Press—VA)
  • ICYMI, the American Farm Bureau Federation is continuing its fight against the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint, filing for an extension of time to ask the Supreme Court to hear its appeal. (Bay Journal)

What's Happening Around the Watershed?

October 7

  • Virginia Beach, VA: CBF is hosting the second annual "Living Waters: Wading In" Interfaith Summit. Join us for a day of music, prayer, inspiring speakers, and collaborative work sessions as we explore ways the faith community can celebrate, protect, and restore our rivers, streams and the Chesapeake Bay. Click here to learn more and register!

October 9

  • Annapolis, MD: Want to help restore the Bay's oyster population? Become an oyster gardener! New oyster gardeners are required to attend an Oyster Gardening Workshop before beginning their first year of gardening, such as one in Annapolis October 9. Returning gardeners can register to pick up spat. Click here to learn more!

October 10

  • Easton, MD: Want to help restore the Bay's oyster population? Become an oyster gardener! New oyster gardeners are required to attend an Oyster Gardening Workshop before beginning their first year of gardening, such as one in Easton October 10. Returning gardeners can register to pick up spat. Click here to learn more!
  • St. Michaels, MD: Join us for a sail on CBF's historic skipjack, the Stanley Norman. While aboard, you'll be invited to help hoist the sails or simply enjoy the view! You will leave with a better understanding of oysters and their role in keeping the Bay clean as well as what CBF is doing to restore the Bay's oyster population. Click here to register!

October 11

  • Baltimore, MD: CBF's oyster gardening program is expanding to Baltimore Harbor! We're looking for 50 new gardeners to care for two cages of oysters each over the winter and then "plant" them on a reef in the spring. This unusual hobby is fun, educational, and helps to clean the harbor waters. Register here!

October 12

  • Annapolis, MD: The Annapolis VoiCeS Course, a six-week adult education class on Mondays, starts October 12! The course will cover regional environmental issues affecting Maryland and the Bay watershed. The program provides information on subjects affecting the health of our community's natural environment and how you can take action. In-depth sessions are taught by Bay experts from CBF and other regional institutions and organizations. Click here to register!

October 13

  • Easton, MD: The Eastern Shore of Maryland VoiCeS Course, a six-week adult education class on Tuesdays, starts October 13! The course will cover regional environmental issues affecting Maryland and the Bay watershed. The program provides information on subjects affecting the health of our community's natural environment and how you can take action. In-depth sessions are taught by Bay experts from CBF and other regional institutions and organizations. Click here to register!
  • Annapolis, MD: Current CBF oyster gardeners can pick up baby spat for the upcoming season. Register here!

October 14

  • Baltimore, MD: Get your hands dirty planting trees, shrubs, wildflowers, and grasses in a vacant lot in West Baltimore that CBF and a coalition of groups are restoring. Click here to register!

October 15

  • Edgewater, MD: Another opportunity for current CBF oyster gardeners can pick up baby spat for the upcoming season. Register here!

—Drew Robinson, CBF's Digital Media Associate

Conservation in the Face of Change

DSC_0091Joseph Stallings
Photo by Joseph Stallings.

The following first appeared in Save the Bay magazine

The fisheries of the Chesapeake give identity to the region, and maintaining them in the face of various stresses remains our biggest obligation and challenge. Loss of habitat, degraded water quality, and overharvest have been vexing to sort out and address, and climate change potentially shifts the landscape entirely.

As a temperate estuary, the Chesapeake faces change regularly. Water temperature can change 50 degrees over a year. Salinity, a key determinant of where fish can live, ranges from zero (freshwater) at the head of the Bay to ocean saltiness at its mouth. From year to year this "salinity gradient" can shift dramatically depending on the amount of rainfall in the watershed. Certain species have adapted well to this changing environment. These are the ones the early settlers found in unbelievable numbers. And these "resilient" species are the ones that have supported our valuable fisheries: blue crabs, oysters, and rockfish

The abundance of life in the Bay seemed limitless early in our history, but with hindsight we have learned there are limits to what we can take out sustainably. Add to that the historically reckless attitude toward the environment including denuding the land and damming the rivers, and the Bay's living resources faced new changes to which they were not adapted. American shad and oysters are two good examples. Both were harvested relentlessly, and both lost habitat quantity and quality. 

Now climate change is adding a new layer of complication to this picture. Increasing temperature, rising sea level, and more variable precipitation present new challenges for Bay life. Species at the southern end of their range, like soft-shelled clams and eelgrass, already seem to be retreating northward up the Atlantic Coast. Atlantic menhaden haven't produced strong year classes in the Bay in 20 years. Might this be due to climate-related shifts in ocean currents interrupting their life cycle? Rockfish (striped bass) prefer young menhaden as food but may be shifting more to blue crabs as a result and suffering nutritional consequences. And crabs may also be facing new predators like red drum, which are expanding their range northward into the Bay.

There are no simple answers to addressing climate change or any of the other changes facing the Chesapeake Bay. Monitoring Bay conditions and adapting our strategies, much like fish and shellfish have to do, is the basic response. Managing our fisheries sustainably also requires being attentive and nimble. Ensuring there are enough fish to spawn and sufficient habitat for them to survive are fundamental principles. Science provides the basis for these assessments. Most importantly, when the science is incomplete, err on the side of the resource. Being conservative is the best course for both fish and fisherman in the face of change.

—Bill Goldsborough, CBF's Director of Fisheries

This Week in the Watershed

 Rock run_1200

Rock Run in Lycoming, PA, a tributary of the Susquehanna River, is one of many streams and creeks whose health dramatically impacts the Chesapeake Bay. Photo by Neil Ever Osborne/iLCP.

It has been said many times, as goes Pennsylvania, so goes the Chesapeake Bay. With half of the Bay's fresh water coming from the Susquehanna, Pennsylvania has a more dramatic impact on the health of the Bay than any other state. This reality makes the EPA's recent interim milestone assessment all the more alarming. While Maryland and Virginia are generally on track, Pennsylvania is on pace to fall significantly short.

In the coming months, we will continue to focus on reducing pollution from Pennsylvania, while not losing sight of the responsibilities all states in the watershed have in cleaning our rivers, streams, and Bay.

This week in the Watershed: Pennsylvania, Sneakers, and a Climate Change Encyclical

  • Pennsylvania is way off track in meeting it's pollution reduction goals. (Bay Journal)
  • Virginia's Lafayette River bi-annual survey reveals it's getting increasingly healthy. (Virginian Pilot—VA)
  • Former Maryland State Senator Bernie Fowler conducted his annual "Sneaker Index," where he waded into the Patuxent River until he could no longer see his white sneakers. The informal survey measured the clearest water since the 1950s! (Southern Maryland News—MD)
  • Pennsylvania really does need to step up their game. (Baltimore Sun Editorial)
  • While Pennsylvania needs to make major leaps in its pollution reduction goals, Virginia is generally on track. (Daily Press—VA)
  • Philadelphia County and numerous businesses and organizations joined CBF's Clean Water Counts! initiative in Pennsylvania, which calls on state officials to make clean water a top priority in the Keystone State. (CBF Press Release—PA)
  • The Pope released an encyclical Thursday, calling for a cultural revolution to combat climate change. CBF came out in support of his encyclical, applauding him for calling people to be better stewards of creation. (Baltimore Sun—MD)

What's Happening around the Watershed?

June 20

  • Those who have been growing oysters can plant them in the Patuxent River.
  • Get outside and get your hands dirty, helping plant 400 trees and shrubs along Swatara Creek in Londonderry, PA. E-mail Kate Austin at to register!
  • Yet another opportunity for those interested in oyster gardening for the first time or those looking to pick up new baby oysters to attend an oyster gardening workshop, this time in Deltaville, VA.
  • The Clean Water Concert Series continues on Maryland's Eastern Shore, as the XPD's perform in Easton, MD.

June 21

  • Love paddle boarding? Then put on your calendar "Cape 2 Cape," a festival celebrating paddle boarding through a 19-mile race across the Bay and various Father's Day races. All proceeds benefit the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

June 24-25

  • Interested in advocating for clean water in Virginia? Attend the 5th Annual Clean Water Captains workshop in Virginia Beach. E-mail Lori Kersting at for more information.

June 25

  • Get on the water with CBF on Susquehanna's West Branch, often described as a "recreation mecca." On this canoe adventure you'll learn about the native ecosystem and explore the verdant valley, paddling by plants and animals that call these unique ecosystems home. Click here to register!

June 26

  • Help restore the Chesapeake's native oyster population by cleaning oyster shells (we call it "shell shaking") by shaking off the dirt and debris so baby oysters can successfully grow on them. Registration is required!

July 11

  • Enjoy a leisurely guided hike along the Gwynns Falls Trail through Gwynns Falls/Leakin Park. A guest speaker will bring to life the history of this the second largest urban park in the country. Click here to register! Deadline to register is July 7.

—Drew Robinson, CBF's Digital Media Associate

On the Front Lines of Mitigating Climate Change

The following first appeared on EcoWatch.

Brock_1200CBF's Brock Environmental Center in Virginia Beach. Photo by Roberto Westbrook.

Sea levels in the Chesapeake Bay region of Virginia are rising at a rate more than twice the global average. Since 1960, the area has experienced a 325 percent increase in "nuisance flooding" that disrupts business by closing roads and flooding parking lots and putting undue stress on infrastructure, like storm water drains, roads and sidewalks.

Some of this recurrent flooding is due to the land settling, the geologic results of a massive meteor strike here 35 million years ago. But there's little doubt the Virginia coast is also on the frontline of climate change, surging waters and more intense storms. It's no longer a question if and when the sea will rise here; the challenge is how much and how to adapt.

The Chesapeake Bay is our nation's largest estuary and home to more than 3,600 species of plants and animals, including thousands of acres of valuable coastal marsh and wetlands. Scientists anticipate Virginia will lose 50-80 percent of these wetlands in the next 50 years at the current rate of sea-level rise. And it isn't just the beautiful vistas we'll lose, but everything else these wetlands provide—protection from erosion near waterfront property; flood control; filtration of runoff and removal of pollutants; and the food, water and habitat for the critters that call the wetlands home.

The busy Hampton Roads area is the second most populated region at risk from sea level and related storm damage after New Orleans. And it is home to the world's largest Navy base. During a speech at the College of William and Mary, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) remarked that in another 25 years, the main road into Naval Station Norfolk, will be under water three hours a day.

Thus, climate change not only threatens our way of life, but it's threatening our national security as well. We need to mitigate its effects with short- and long-term strategies. We need to adapt to these changes by developing environmentally smart infrastructure that not only allows us to live in a rapidly changing world, but minimizes climate changing pollution for the future.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation's new Brock Environmental Center in Virginia Beach is designed to do just that by minimizing CO2 emissions, limiting environmental impacts and adapting to rising sea-levels. The center is built on pilings more than 14 feet above sea level and 200 feet back from the river's edge (double the 100 feet clearance required by Virginia law), safe from both rising sea levels and storm surges.

The Brock Environmental Center also utilizes existing technology and common-sense design features to meet the Living Building Challenge, the highest standard for environmentally smart building. Two small wind turbines and roof top solar arrays generate enough energy to power the building. Geothermal wells, windows that open and close according to temperature needs, super-insulated walls and floors, and natural ventilation features—heat and cool the building.

And rain cisterns and a filtering system make the Brock Environmental Center the first project in the U.S. to receive a commercial permit for drinking filtered/treated rainwater in accordance with the federal drinking water requirements. In fact, the center uses rainwater for all its water needs.     
The builders also extensively used recycled and salvaged materials to reduce waste, and they excluded more than 300 hundred toxic materials typically found in common building materials.

Finally, the building was designed to prevent site disturbance—there is no parking lot on site, and it is landscaped in native trees, shrubs, and grasses to restore years of displaced wetlands. The natural landscaping allows flood waters to rise, settle and recede naturally without harm to the center or nearby neighborhoods.

Now open for business, the Brock Environmental Center allows the Chesapeake Bay Foundation to continue its groundbreaking work saving the Bay in Hampton Roads while providing a national model for smart building, energy efficiency, and climate-change adaptability.

—Christy Everett, CBF Hampton Roads Director

Click here to watch a drone fly through of the completed Brock Environmental Center!

The Blueprint Is Like Cash in the Bank

DSC_4731CBF President Will Baker at this morning's press conference: "Today we can confirm what we long advocated: Reducing pollution makes great sense for our health and environment." Photo by Rob Beach/CBF Staff.

This morning, we released our report, The Economic Benefits of Cleaning Up the Chesapeake. The results of the report are breaking new ground in our case for implementing the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint—our best chance for cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers and streams.

For the first time ever, we can put a dollar figure on the value of implementing the Blueprint. That figure is staggering. When the Blueprint is fully implemented, the added benefits of clean water, clean air, and healthy land will reach $22.5 billion per year. Just as important, the report shows that abandoning the Blueprint now would cost $6 billion annually in natural benefits lost to polluted waters.

Economic Report CoverThese numbers are a conservative estimate that came from rigorous work by CBF's water quality expert, Dr. Beth McGee, and the respected natural resources economist Dr. Spencer Phillips of Key-Log Economics. Together, they reviewed more than 70 previous studies to calculate the economic value of the natural benefits the Bay system provides.

Of the two dozen potential benefits the natural environment provides, the authors looked at the eight benefits most directly related to water quality. These are the ones they evaluated:

  • Climate Stability
  • Food production
  • Protection from flooding
  • Clean water supply
  • Clean air
  • Treatment of waste
  • Recreation
  • Aesthetic value

All tallied, those benefits to the Chesapeake Bay's six states and the District of Columbia are worth more than $107 billion annually. When the Blueprint is fully implemented, that number rises to nearly $130 billion.

The efficacy of the report has been confirmed by expert reviewers from the fields of ecological economics, water resources management, environmental policy, and water quality science. The evidence is absolutely clear: What's good for the Bay is good for the economy—not just in communities on or near the Bay where benefits to boaters and fishermen are obvious. Every state with rivers and streams that drain into the Bay stands to gain substantially from implementing the Blueprint.

Here's how the annual financial benefit of implementing the Blueprint break out by state:

  • Pennsylvania: $6.2 billion
  • Virginia: $8.3 billion
  • Maryland: $4.6 billion 
  • Delaware: $206 million
  • West Virginia: $1.3 billion
  • New York: $1.9 billion

Econ Report Infographic square FINALImplementing the Blueprint is about more than cleaning up the Bay. It's about fixing what's wrong with the way we use our land and water. It's about maintaining forested areas that help filter water, some of which ends up as drinking water in our wells. It's about smarter development, because reducing the amount of pavement and hard surfaces prevents pollution from washing into rivers and streams when it rains. Cleaning the Bay is about using best management practices on farms that minimize the fertilizer and waste running from the land into the water.

We know these things will lead to cleaner water flowing into the Bay, which will allow the return of sea grasses and increase habitat for fish and crabs that live among the grasses. Cleaner water will reduce the low oxygen zones—areas of the Bay where oxygen is so low that most marine life can't survive.
But that's not all it will do. It turns out, the very things that are needed to clean the Bay are going to improve groundwater, air quality, soil health. That in turn improves human health, property value, agricultural productivity, and recreational commerce.

We now have the proof. Implementing the Blueprint improves the economic value of the entire region—from New York to Virginia, from Pennsylvania to West Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, and the Nation’s capital.

Now it's time to get the job done, make the changes that need to be made to improve water quality in the Bay. We'll all reap the benefits!

—Kimbra Cutlip, CBF's Senior Multimedia Writer

A Tipping Point for Good

The following first appeared in Truth Out.

The Brock Environmental Center, located at Pleasure House Point in Virginia Beach, VA

We've known for a long time that the Earth is warming, but it could be worse than we thought. A recent report from the World Meteorological Organization concludes that carbon pollution and the buildup of greenhouse gases that trap heat in the atmosphere are increasing much faster than projected. And this pollution is putting communities across the country at a higher risk of droughts, intense storms, floods, and other problems brought on by global warming.

In the Chesapeake Bay region, we're on the front lines of climate change. Streets in Norfolk, Virginia, home to nearly a quarter of a million people and the world's largest naval base, routinely flood during heavy rains. Wind-and wave-pushed storm surges make the flooding even worse. And scientists estimate sea levels in Norfolk will rise another foot and a half within the next 50 years.

Virginians are scrambling to prepare the region for these changes. The governor convened a special commission to recommend action; the military is looking hard at the future of its Hampton Roads bases—and local governments, businesses, and citizens are bracing for the worst.

But at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, we're not blinking; we're creating a tipping point for the good by helping to develop solutions that could be a model for coastal regions across the country and the world where climate change threatens our livelihood and our future.

In November 2014, we'll open the doors to the new Brock Environmental Center—a 10,000 square-foot environmental education and community center in Virginia Beach, VA. By adapting existing technologies and utilizing old-school building techniques, we're building an energy efficient and environmentally smart building that will reduce damaging carbon pollution and adapt to rising sea-levels and a changing climate.

The solution starts with energy independence. To achieve that goal, the Brock Environmental Center is designed to use 80 percent less energy than typical buildings. The building will generate clean renewable energy from two wind turbines and rooftop solar.

Our designers curved the building and positioned it to maximize natural sunlight and maritime winds. The building features a "dog trot," an open deck in the middle of the building that promotes natural ventilation by allowing cool air to flow in and heat to flow out. It's an old trick used by Colonial builders in the South before the era of air conditioning. The highly insulated building significantly reduces the need for heating and air conditioning.

Together with the center's ultra-tight walls, windows, and doors, extra insulation and energy efficiencies, the Brock Center will truly be energy independent.

The building will also be water independent. Rainwater will be harvested from the roof and treated, allowing us to use our own water for drinking, sinks and showers, and other needs. Any excess rain water will flow into nearby rain gardens. "Gray water" will be used for native grasses, flowers, and shrubs. Even the center's bathrooms will use waterless toilets that compost waste in waterproof bins until the harmless compost can be spread on the grounds.

Anticipating more regional flooding, we have raised the building on pylons about 13 feet above current sea level and above any expected flooding in the coming decades.

Most importantly, we deliberately left the landscaping around the building as natural as possible in marsh, sand, shrubs, and trees. There are no paved parking lots; staff and visitors will park on nearby streets and walk to the center on a natural path through the woods. Any code-required handicap and emergency accesses will use permeable pavers that let water soak in rather than run off.

All of this natural, "soft" landscaping makes the Brock Center serve as a giant sponge, absorbing rainfall and storm surges and allowing flood waters to spread and recede naturally without harm to the center or nearby neighborhoods.

Researchers, students, designers, and architects will come to the Brock Environmental Center to learn about the Chesapeake Bay and environmentally smart building techniques to reduce carbon pollution and prepare our communities for climate change. As people take these techniques back to their communities around the country and the world, it will help create a tipping point for the good.

—Will Baker, CBF President

Watch this video, discussing the genesis of the Brock Environmental Center project and how it is a model for combating climate change and future coastal buildings. 

Photo of the Week: Beauty, Promise, and Peril on Tangier Island

Tangier.Is.S-BlakelyTangier Island, Virginia. Photo by Steve Blakely. 

The highest point of land on Tangier Island is only four feet above sea level, and the small community here is fighting hard to hang on: The ground is sinking, and the ocean is rising. To me, the beauty, promise, and peril of the Chesapeake are all captured in this one amazing place.

—Steve Blakely

Learn more about Tangier Island here.

Ensure that Steve and future generations continue to enjoy extraordinary sights like these. Support the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint!

Do you have a favorite Bay photo you'd like to submit to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Photo of the Week contest? Send your digital images to CBF's E-Communications Manager, Emmy Nicklin, at enicklin [at sign], along with a brief description of where and when you took the photo, and what the Chesapeake Bay means to you. We look forward to seeing your photos!

Photo of the Week: Saxis Crab-Shedding Houses

IMG_2391Photo by Rhonda Ford.

"I took this outside of Saxis, Va. on the Eastern Shore. I love the Bay for its beauty, the food it provides, the relaxation it provides just sitting by it or on it in any manner of floatation as well as the unbelievable ecosystem it is. It is one of my favorite places to beby the Bay and in Saxis, in particular, because of the wild beauty of the salt marshes here. 

[This photo, in particular, is of] some soft-shell crab shedding houses in Saxis. It was taken about three years ago as we left the marina to go out for the day. Today it doesn't look like this because Hurricane Sandy took the shedding houses and the surrounding tanks as well as the seawall and much of the landing. I am really glad I got this shot since I cannot see this in person any more."

Rhonda Ford

Ensure that Rhonda and future generations continue to enjoy extraordinary places like these. Support the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint! 

Do you have a favorite Bay photo you'd like to submit to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Photo of the Week contest? Send your digital images to CBF's E-Communications Manager, Emmy Nicklin, at enicklin [at sign], along with a brief description of where and when you took the photo, and what the Chesapeake Bay means to you. We look forward to seeing your photos!

Earth Day: "That's All There Is"

EarthPhoto courtesy Flickr Creative Commons.


“Our goal is not just an environment of clean air and water and scenic beauty. The objective is an environment of decency, quality, and mutual respect for all other human beings and all other living creatures.” That’s what U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson said when he launched the very first Earth Day back in the spring of 1970. With roughly 20 million Americans taking part in that first Earth Day—from more than 10,000 schools and 1,000 communities across the country, bringing together all walks of life from housewives to farmers to scientists to students—the event was a bigger success than ever anticipated.

I had the honor of meeting and listening to Senator Nelson when he came to talk to The Nature Conservancy in the spring of 2004, just a year before his death. Though older, frailer, and bound to a wheelchair, Senator Nelson had not lost his impact or might. With quiet conviction he told the story of Earth Day, and why indeed it’s critical we continue to gather together on April 22 every year and raise awareness and appreciation for our environment.

After all, as Nelson said in 1995 on the 25th Anniversary of Earth Day, our natural world and our health and wealth are intrinsically tied together: “The wealth of the nation is its air, water, soil, forests, minerals, rivers, lakes, oceans, scenic beauty, wildlife habitats, and biodiversity… that’s all there is. That’s the whole economy. That’s where all the economic activity and jobs come from. These biological systems are the sustaining wealth of the world.”

And so year after year we have had the privilege of carrying on Nelson’s vision, and this year is no exception. From oyster festivals to tree plantings, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation will be taking part in various Earth Day events across the watershed. Here below is a sneak peak of what you can expect. Please come out and join us! 

—Emmy Nicklin


CBF Earth Day Events



Chesapeake Born: Saving the Planet on the Cheap

IMG_7024Photo by Emmy Nicklin/CBF Staff.

What if you had to save the Chesapeake Bay, and you had no money?

It's a fitting question in the depths of the Great Recession, as deficit hawk shrills throughout the land and governments across the watershed wonder how to afford the next round of Bay cleanup requirements.

Personally, I've been investing cheaply in a host of advanced green technologies: a clothesline in the backyard ($3) and a rainy day drying rack ($20) in the cellar; organic cooling systems, AKA trees, to shade the south and western sides of my house ($500); busting up half my driveway with a pickaxe ($27) to absorb stormwater runoff, planting it with more organic cooling systems.

I bought a small house near work and stores, saving energy, allowing bicycle to replace car most days. A smaller fridge is next as I now shop almost daily. I installed a super-quiet whole house fan ($900) for all the cooling I need most days; and heavily insulated the attic and crawl spaces ($800).

Had I sprung big bucks for Energy Star appliances, solar panels, geothermal heat pumps and an electric car, I'd have received tens of thousands in government subsidies. And in the end I wouldn't have been greener.

So I think it’s time we took a serious look at cheaper ways of getting to a better planet, of saving taxpayer dollars as we restore our environment.

Broadly, that would mean cutting government subsidies to polluting activities; and letting polluting activities reflect their full price.

If I’d bought a big house in a rural subdivision, for example, I’d have been awarded a bigger mortgage deduction, even as I drove more, used more open space, required more roads and polluted more on my septic tank than on a city treatment plant.

We give some $1 trillion annually in federal tax breaks to homeowners, a presidential fiscal reform commission reports. At state and local levels, taxpayers pay thousands a year for every home in a sprawl development to ease the real cost of roads, water and air pollution and the cost of services such as fire, police and utilities.

The extra gasoline such residents burn would cost maybe eight bucks a gallon if we removed government subsidies to oil companies—more than 12 bucks a gallon if, as some suggest, we include part of the defense budget for protecting foreign oil sources.

If gasoline fetched its true market price, there’d be far less need to subsidize electric cars—or mass transit, or bigger roads. No need either, to subsidize solar and wind energy as much if all our traditional energy sources operated without subsidies (like the taxpayer guarantees for part of the accident insurance on nuclear power plants).

Power companies could be rewarded for saving energy, not pushing more of it. At a hearing on a new, $1.4 billion power line I asked what if that money went instead for conservation, could we avoid the need for the line?

Their shareholders wouldn’t like that, a company spokesman said, as they make money based on how much energy they transmit.

Agriculture, the Bay’s biggest source of pollution, is underpinned by federal crop subsidies; at the very least, we’d save big time on cleanup costs if these were morphed into payments for reducing runoff.

Water quality would also benefit if poultry manure were made the responsibility of the big chicken producers nationwide—now it is "owned" by individual growers.

Popular but expensive open space protection programs are in part a price we pay for bad government land-use policies. A proposal by Maryland’s Governor O’Malley to cut state subsidies for schools, roads, and wastewater where counties allow sprawl development could save billions.

Other environmentally beneficial savings worth scrutinizing range from low-cost commuter tolls (a subsidy to sprawl), to flood insurance and beach replacement (subsidies to development, often in some of our most sensitive natural areas).

From the other side of the equation, government accounting for economic progress needs to start valuing the nature we lose as well as the development that replaces it. Current indicators like GDP (gross domestic product), add the value of a parking lot but don’t subtract the value of the forest it felled.

Some might see in the above a danger of slowing growth; but if something can’t pay its way financially, and further creates pollution that costs to clean up, why on earth would we want more of it?

I think the possibilities of saving the Bay cheaper are large, and the politics for doing it are right. The Bay watershed has two Congressmen on the 12 member "Supercommittee" charged with coming up with deficit reductions.

Who wants to convene a conference to see what we can do?

 —Tom Horton

The above appeared in the Bay Journal News Service ( Tom Horton covered the Bay for 33 years for The Sun in Baltimore, and is author of six books about the Chesapeake. Distributed by Bay Journal News Service.