In December, the Chesapeake Bay Program Executive Council will hold its annual meeting, on the cusp of the year 2005—nearly halfway to the 2010 deadline for implementing the Chesapeake 2000 agreement. This multijurisdictional agreement is the most broad-reaching, comprehensive and bipartisan commitment for restoring a complex environmental system ever crafted. But, we must ask of the council, where’s the beef?

With one extremely important exception—Maryland’s landmark sewage legislation—there isn’t any beef, substance or results to show for five years’ of effort.

The frustrating fact remains that the Chesapeake Bay is no closer to being taken off the EPA’s Impaired Water’s list today than it was four and one-half years ago when the agreement was signed.

This is a tragic state of affairs for one of the country’s true ecological jewels, one that President Ronald Reagan called a “national treasure” in a letter to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation in 1984.

It need not be the case, as clear solutions to the Bay’s ills are available.

While there is no magic to meeting the agreement’s goals, they do require political will. An excellent example of this determination happened last spring when Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich and the members of the General Assembly put aside political differences to work together for the Bay’s benefit.

With rare bipartisan harmony in a legislative session otherwise dominated by polarizing rhetoric, they passed legislation to raise nearly a billion dollars to fund state-of-the-art sewage treatment plant upgrades. These improvements will eliminate millions of pounds of polluting nitrogen from the Bay and its tributaries annually.

Although this was only one step in what Maryland needs to do to meet its 2010 goals, the process can serve as a model for the additional initiatives that are needed in Maryland and other Bay states. There will be enough credit for all to reap the requisite political benefits, and the steps to success are straightforward:

 

  • Follow sound science;
  • Spread the financial responsibility across all users; and
  • Work together in a spirit of collaboration and partnership.

In Virginia, the largest point sources of polluting nitrogen are sewage treatment plants and industrial dischargers, which accounted for almost 26 million pounds of the total nitrogen load in 2003. Legislation similar to Maryland’s will be introduced in the 2005 General Assembly—called the “Clean Rivers, Clean Chesapeake” legislation—that could achieve 70 percent of the nitrogen pollution reductions needed to meet the state’s 2010 cleanup goals. As a signatory to the regional 2000 Bay agreement, Virginia has pledged to reduce nitrogen pollution by 28 million pounds annually.

For about the cost of a gallon of milk and a candy bar per household per month, Virginians can stop the illegal discharge of poorly treated sewage into their creeks, rivers and Bay. And, there is more. An additional $40 million will be generated annually for agricultural interests to jump-start pollution reduction from farms.

The CBF is committed to working to ensure this Bay-saving legislation is passed. We will devote a special section of our web site (www.cbf.org) that outlines the critical need for the measure, its details and the clean water benefits that will result once passed.

Proponents of the measure will be able to electronically voice their support for this critical legislation to their legislators.

We also encourage people to attend the CBF’s lobby day in Richmond on Jan. 17. (Visit www.cbf.org/valobbyday for details.)

The Executive Council should demonstrate its leadership by weighing in on the need for such legislation, not only in Virginia but in Pennsylvania, the District of Columbia, West Virginia, Delaware and New York.

At this writing, the tentative date for the council meeting—which is open to the public—is Dec. 13 at Mount Vernon in Virginia. At this milestone meeting, the members of the Executive Council must bring forward clear and binding plans for meeting Chesapeake 2000.

All of us who love the Chesapeake watershed and believe that its restoration can be a model of success, not failure, must demand nothing less.

Let’s build on the momentum for real improvement. Please let the members of the Executive Council know your feelings. I urge you to contact them at www.chesapeakebay.net/exec.htm. The Bay needs your voice.