This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Bay Journal — and I recently took time to flip through a quarter century’s worth of the publication. I found more than 6,000 pages devoted to stories of Chesapeake water quality, wildlife, landscapes and culture.
It’s been an amazing experience. The Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay launched the Bay Journal in 1991, with me as both editor and lone reporter, backed in those early years by a few columnists (thanks Kathy Reshetiloff, Bill Matuszeski and, a bit later, Kent Mountford!). The newspaper, published 10 times a year, replaced a smaller, traditional newsletter.
It was an important, ambitious decision. The Chesapeake Bay needed a newspaper. There was so much going on — and so much excitement about restoring the nation’s largest estuary — that there was no end of topics to write about.
In the early years, I reported on the emerging science that explored how air pollution, septics, stormwater, wastewater and agriculture were all contributing to the Bay’s problems, and the many ways in which each of them was difficult — and expensive — to fix.
Still, many early articles reflected the can-do attitude of the time. States were ramping up programs to meet a cleanup deadline for 2000 (“What will I do in 2001?” I thought), farmers were implementing nutrient management plans, utilities were building fish passages at Susquehanna River dams, and more.
In retrospect, there were also hints of how hard things would be. In the first issue, March 1991, I wrote about a new report warning that controlling “nonpoint source pollution” may prove more difficult than anticipated. The reality settled in over time. By 1999, a headline read, “Bay Program must clean Chesapeake by 2010 — or else.” The article foreshadowed the need for a total maximum daily load if another deadline was missed.
In June 1992, I wrote our first (of many) articles about the buildup of sediment behind Conowingo Dam, including a U.S. Geological Survey projection that the dam would lose its trapping capacity in about two decades — a pretty accurate prediction.
In November of that year, I wrote about a landmark agreement with utilities on the Susquehanna River to build fish passages at their hydroelectric dams. Earlier this year, we had another agreement, still trying to do the same thing.
Over the years, readers got a heads-up on many issues before others were generally talking about them. In 2007, we began reporting about the resurgence of agriculture in the region and the likelihood that the amount of cropland and its nutrient runoff was underestimated — something borne out in the USDA’s 2012 agricultural census.
In 2008, we reported about a federal court ruling in Arizona, that helped establish the legal and regulatory framework used in the Chesapeake Bay TMDL.
Just last month, a number of newspapers reported on the impact of people’s dietary choices on water quality — tied to a nutrient calculator developed by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. The Bay Journal made this topic a cover story four years ago.
As issues affecting the Bay became more complex and diverse, we created a new nonprofit organization, Chesapeake Media Service, which took over the newspaper in 2010. This created more funding opportunities for the paper and related projects, allowing us to add staff to more fully explore issues affecting water quality across the watershed. Our staff has continued to expand, and so has our reach. Our web and social media audience grows, and our syndication service provides news and commentary to media outlets throughout the region. Today, the Bay Journal is less a reflection of my individual work and increasingly that of a growing, talented team.
One thing that hasn’t changed in 25 years is the need for a newspaper dedicated to environmental reporting in the Chesapeake region. In fact, it’s needed more than ever. The news is abundant and often complicated; at the same time, environmental coverage in other media has dramatically declined.
For the past quarter-century, the Bay Journal has stood witness to the enormous effort and challenges of the restoration effort and has delivered quite a body of work. The next 25 years promise to be even more exciting.