(Posted by Hank Zygmunt.)
After attending the recent U.S. Agriculture Congressional Chesapeake Bay House hearing I recalled many conversations I had with a number of farmers throughout my career. At workshops, farm visits and town hall meetings, farmers shared concerns about local water quality and their desire to share in the responsibility to restore their local streams, creeks and rivers.
For farmers, saving the Chesapeake Bay is secondary to their concerns about the health of their local waterbodies. And understandably so, because most of them are not directly impacted by the degraded water quality of the Bay even though they are part of the overall process as it relates to the Chesapeake Bay TMDL. However, whether located in the Shenandoah Valley, the Eastern Shore or Lancaster County, there is a strong recognition, from all sectors, for the need to address local water quality challenges that are dominated by agricultural production.
Nonetheless, neither the progress that has been made nor the work necessary yet to get done should be thwarted or clouded by disagreements about the accuracy of the Bay model. The model, based on TMDL reduction requirements, is not perfect, but provides an agreeable target. It has been said, “All models are flawed. Some are useful.” This model is useful; it is among the most sophisticated in the world and has served the Bay restoration efforts well.
Let’s not lose sight of the fact that the model will continue to evolve and be refined as more data is made available. But to stop and raise a time-out flag that thwarts ongoing progress and momentum is counterproductive to the Bay partnership commitments and to our stewardship of both the Bay and local waters. Not only does it send the wrong message to the farm community but also deters the confidence of the general public to support restoration efforts in recognition of the progress that has been achieved.
On-the-ground agricultural practices need to be accelerated now, while the Bay model continues to evolve. From a common sense standpoint we cannot afford to wait and wait, knowing that each year more controllable pollution is entering Bay waters. Identifying such a fine point for pollution control will not get the Bay restored; or satisfy the naysayers, as they will continue to question precision—an excuse for delaying action. We may also debate whether some of these nay-saying organizations and leaders may have other misguided aspirations.
So our focus must remain strong and steady on protecting and improving water quality, first in our own backyard and as a result for our downstream neighbors. Doing well by doing good. By taking responsibility and being backyard stewards we are serving the overarching mission of saving the Bay.
An analogy to consider would be the patient who is told by his doctor that he has a disease for which there is no cure. The doctor can either tell the patient to go home and wait for the cure to be discovered, or the doctor could recommend a number of things that could improve the patient’s odds and improve his quality of life.
We couldn’t and shouldn’t accept the “prescription” of no action currently being advocated by certain sectors and wait for the “cure.” We must continue to take responsible action to protect and improve the health of the Bay.
Hank Zygmunt served 36 years with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. During this time a number of environmental achievements defined Hank’s career. These included: EPA/OSM Abandoned Acid Mine Drainage initiative , Offshore Oil and Gas NPDES program, National Poultry Dialogue, CAFO rule development, Perdue Farms/USEPA Clean Bays Agreement, Science Advisor on toxic/water quality related legislation for the U.S. Senate and Nonpoint Source and Chesapeake Bay Program management.
During his last several years at EPA he provided support to the Administrators Office on national and Chesapeake Bay issues as well as serving as EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Office as the Agricultural Advisor leading EPA’s Agriculture Work Group for State Phase I Watershed Implementation Plans/TMDL.
Presently, Hank is a member of Resource Dynamics, Inc. working under a grant from the Keith Campbell Foundation.