At the beginning of October, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation released a new report that puts to rest the age-old debate of the environment versus the economy. This report, The Economic Benefits of Cleaning Up the Chesapeake, clearly demonstrates that they are simply two sides of the same coin. You cannot have one without the other.

Nature provides many benefits to the region that can be quantified: cleaner water, cleaner air, hurricane and flood protection, recreation, and fresh, healthy food and seafood. These benefits extend to everyone in the Bay’s 64,000-square-mile drainage basin, from headwater streams to the Atlantic Ocean.

The peer-reviewed report, produced by economist Spencer Phillips and CBF Senior Scientist Beth McGee, is the first of its kind that looks at the whole region. It compared the value of those benefits in 2009, the year before the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint began to be implemented, with the benefits that can be expected as a result of fully implementing the Bay restoration plan.

The report estimates that the value of natural benefits from the pre-Blueprint Bay watershed, even in its polluted and degraded condition, at $107 billion annually. Once the Blueprint is fully implemented and the benefits realized, that amount grows by $22 billion to $129.7 billion a year. Equally telling, if the region relaxes efforts and does little more to clean up the Bay than what has been done to date, pollution will worsen and the value of Bay benefits will decline by almost $6 billion annually.

Like a three-legged stool — the air, the water and the land must function as nature designed them if we are to achieve a high quality of life for all of the Bay watershed’s 17 million residents. Clean water, clean air and healthy land-based resources — without all three, the stool will not stand.

Yes, success will be difficult. But the benefits to society are powerful motivators. They are threefold: environmental benefits, human health benefits, and as this report clearly proves — economic benefits. The environment, human health and the economy are fundamental to the quality of our lives. They are not separate; they are interwoven like the threads of a tapestry.

The CBF study addressed only benefits, not costs. While there are no recent estimates of the total costs of implementing the Bay’s cleanup, a 2004 estimate put costs in the range of roughly $6 billion per year. Considering federal, state and local investments in clean water in the 10 years since that time, the CBF estimates that the current number is closer to $5 billion annually.

And once capital investments are made, the long-term annual operations and maintenance costs will be much lower. The result: The Blueprint will return benefits to the region each year at a rate of more than four times the estimated cost of the cleanup plan.

The Blueprint is made up of the pollution limits that the states worked with EPA to set, the individual state plans to achieve those limits, and the states’ two-year milestones that ensure transparency and accountability. And it is under attack, both in the courts and in Congress.

As this report demonstrates, all of the residents of this region have an economic interest in reducing pollution and successfully implementing the Blueprint. It makes both economic and environmental sense.

A copy of The Economic Benefits of Cleaning Up the Chesapeake and additional information and graphics can be downloaded at cbf.org/economicbenefits. Please share it with your friends on Facebook and Twitter, and let your elected officials know that cleaning up our waterways is an investment that is in our interest to make.