Standing on the edge of the Magothy River, I listened to a honking wedge of geese making their way toward the Eastern Shore. The crisp blue sky was empty except for the wisps of high clouds that confirmed the cold front that had come in overnight. There are more gulls than people out this time of morning. With wind gusts that are surprisingly cold, I think I know why.
I have always loved this change of season on the Chesapeake because when the water turns cold, it also turns clear, cleansed of the algae and turbidity that came in the warm summer months. In the shallows, I can easily see the leaves and other debris that are memories of autumn just past. The clear, cold water offers a glimpse of what the Bay was once like and what I begin to think it could be again.
Looking back on 2011, it was a pretty tumultuous year for the watershed. In addition to the natural events, the new regulatory framework for water quality that came this time last year created a flurry of activity, analysis and controversy. As the year progressed, anxiety over translating the new pollution limits into action came with a sobering recognition of the challenges ahead.
The start of another new year is a time for us to make resolutions and predictions of what could be. It is also the season of hope. There are things I hope for my family, my job, church and country. For many of us, the Bay and its rivers also hold center stage.
I have a few hopes for the Chesapeake in the New Year:
First, I hope there will be a stronger belief among those living in the watershed that they can and should make a difference.
As the saying goes, "No one can do everything but everyone can do something." An action may be small, but there can be real power in the cumulative effect of thousands of these actions, especially when they are aimed at a common objective. I am reminded of the work that the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay is doing in Washington, DC, working with the district to help homeowners reduce stormwater runoff from their properties using rain gardens, planting trees and removing impervious areas.
I also hope to see businesses becoming stronger contributors to the Bay's restoration. As government struggles to stay in the black, the potential for business action and investment that is aligned with Bay goals seems like a very good idea. If we can get businesses teamed with local action and initiative, it could serve as a powerful conduits for raising awareness and volunteerism and sharing in the work of restoring the Bay and is watershed.
In Project Clean Stream, the Alliance witnesses thousands of business employees improving their local streams each year.
I have hope for an honest dialogue about agriculture. With all that could have been done to find common ground last year, there seemed to be more interest in lawsuits and finger pointing.
Clearly, farmers can and should do more to solve the problems that come with growing our food; just as all of us who live in suburbia need to change some of our destructive behaviors. But it's time to find solutions through honest dialogue about business models that improve the land, protect the water and allow farmers to profit.
After more than a decade, I hope we will see some form of water quality credit-trading finally come of age. Instead of trying to go "all in," perhaps it makes sense to focus on creating a simpler system that has specific goals and a limited number of trusted practices. It will be a learning experience, but it is time to get started.
I hope to see local governments emerge as the leaders of watershed protection. Right now, the cost of new pollution limits seems to have the center stage but there is much creative thinking going on about how to pay for it. Studies have shown that local investment in natural resources and restoration work returns more jobs per dollar spent than almost any other type of public spending. If all of the watershed's residents paid $10 month, it would translate into billions of dollars in local investment for local jobs, as well as cleaner water and air. Now that they have the responsibility, I hope local governments also get the support they need.
Last, I hope we have no shortage of leaders that will have the faith and the courage to keep the restoration of the Bay and its watershed on the front burner. Sure, we need political leaders, but it is exciting to see efforts like the Chesapeake Covenant Community emerge with church leaders taking a stand to make the stewardship of the Bay a moral obligation. We see local leadership each year at our Chesapeake Watershed Forum from groups who speak up for their local river. We see businesses stepping forward to donate a percentage of their profits to the Bay.
Leadership can come from many places, and we will need lots of it.
So, what are your hopes for the Chesapeake Bay restoration effort in 2012?