Dec. 9 marked the 30th anniversary of the signing of the first bay agreement in Virginia.
I was there with 700 bay enthusiasts as a state senator serving on a work group developing legislative actions for bay restoration that were recommended to all signers.
The one-page agreement was signed by the governors of Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania; the mayor of Washington, D.C.; and the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, all of whom solemnly pledged to restore the bay.
Under Gov. Harry Hughes’ leadership in 1984, 10 major bay initiatives, including the Critical Area Law, were enacted and significant funding and staff were added to move us forward. Many other laws followed, including those to protect wetlands and forests and ban detergent phosphates.
Unfortunately, these efforts were not enough as subsequent formal agreements with specific pollution reduction goals resulted in repeated failures to meet the goals, all without consequences for the elected officials and their states.
The real consequences were for the bay, which remains severely degraded. About 90 percent of bay waters remain polluted in violation of the Clean Water Act with collapsed fisheries, including oysters, shad and soft clams. In 2012, nearly 15,000 acres of underwater grasses disappeared and acreage approached lows last reported in 1986.
We have so poisoned our waters that reports abound of serious infections in humans and dogs that come into contact with bay waters. Recently, I learned my car mechanic, an avid fisherman, had contracted a serious infection while fishing the South River last summer and was hospitalized with a chronic wasting disease eating his leg away. This is not an isolated case as others have had life-threatening infections, including from the Severn River.
If, in 1983, we were to create a nightmare scenario for the bay, this would be it — we are living that nightmare! The cause of this decline is attributable to the failure to properly address pollutants from developed land — stormwater runoff — and from agricultural operations. We have excelled at nutrient reductions from sewage treatment plants through the enactment of the flush tax developed and signed into law by our last Republican governor. This reduction is “the” singular success story of the bay restoration efforts and comes with a price tag of $1.4 billion with everyone paying at least $60 per year.
Alarmingly, the political will and public concerns over the bay’s decline have dwindled to the point where efforts to address stormwater pollution are attacked and demeaned and where reasonable efforts to control farm pollution are blocked. The O’Malley administration just rolled over on the important efforts to control phosphorus pollution from chicken and other manures.
We know reducing nutrients works to restore water quality. We need a parallel fee to the flush tax to clean up Anne Arundel’s streams from stormwater runoff, which contributes most of the pollutants to our waters. We also need to stop clearing forests, such as proposed at Crystal Spring, and start to manage sprawl development so no new pollutants occur from new development. Farm pollution also must be aggressively addressed.
What is most needed is strong political leadership, not whining, pandering politicians blocking stormwater cleanup fees with no alternative ideas on how to raises the hundreds of millions of dollars necessary to restore our creeks. Blaming other states and local jurisdictions is absurd when the South River and Severn River, both severely degraded and the source of serious infections from water contact, are wholly within Anne Arundel County.
We know what needs to be done to restore our treasured Chesapeake Bay. We can get it done, but not with the current attitudes and nearsighted leadership.
Submitted by Gerald Winegrad