Bay Journal

There’s nothing ‘average’ about the state of the Chesapeake

  • By William C. Baker on December 01, 2007
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When the Executive Council meets on Dec. 5, its members must demonstrate that they are ready to crank Bay-saving up to a whole new level. If they do not, the future will be bleak indeed.

Crabs don't need more public signings or directives; oysters don't need more photo ops; underwater grasses don't need another reconsideration of tired plans. What the crabs, oysters and grasses need is pollution reduction.

Now, not some time in the undefined future.

At the beginning of last summer, the Chesapeake Bay Program predicted that water quality conditions in the Bay and its tidal rivers would be "average." "Average," it turns out, means that toxic algae bloomed from Baltimore to Hampton Roads, often accompanied by dangerously low levels of life-sustaining dissolved oxygen. (See the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Bad Waters Report at cbf.org/badwaters.)

Millions of dead or sick fish contaminated waters from the Susquehanna in Pennsylvania, Baltimore's Inner Harbor and the Potomac in Maryland, to the James and Shenandoah rivers in Virginia. In late August, dissolved oxygen levels in the Bay's mainstem-critical to a healthy ecosystem-were at a near record low.

We trust the Executive Council will agree that this "average" year was totally unacceptable. It is time for action. Now.

On Dec. 3, the CBF's annual State of the Bay report will show just how much further Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia need to go to reach their pollution reduction goals for 2010.

The Executive Council is already seven years into the Chesapeake 2000 agreement's commitment to remove the Bay from the EPA's "dirty waters" list by 2010. In 2010, Governors Martin O'Malley, Tim Kaine and Ed Rendell will still be in office.

Time is running out. The best scientific analysis is that a reduction of at least 110 million pounds of nitrogen pollution from a 2000 baseline is required to meet the Chesapeake 2000 deadline for removing the Bay from the list by 2010. To date, the Bay Program estimates that only about 20 million pounds of nitrogen pollution reduction has been achieved.

The CBF urges Governors O'Malley, Kaine and Rendell to announce their commitment to get the job done-to set annual nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment reduction goals for 2008, 2009 and 2010; to describe the programs that will achieve the goals; and to commit to funding them.

We are at a pivotal point in the history of Bay restoration. The region's elected leaders must not allow the politics of postponement to continue. They should not saddle future generations with the current Bay conditions that have come to be called "average."

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About William C. Baker
William C. Baker is president and CEO of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, a nonprofit environmental group whose mission is to protect and restore the Chesapeake Bay.
Read more articles by William C. Baker

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