After decades of effort, the voluntary, collaborative approach to restoring the health and vitality of the Chesapeake Bay— the largest estuary in the United States—has not worked and, in fact, is failing. A diverse group of 57 senior scientists and policymakers have joined forces to save the Bay. This is our plan.

No More Bay Business As Usual

(Posted by Fred Tutman.)

(This is fourth in an ongoing series of posts on What’s It Going to Take?: A look at how the environmental community can regain the initiative and build the political will necessary to clean up the Chesapeake Bay.)
Whats It Going to Take?

Who doesn’t want to see our Bay, rivers, or streams restored to health? So it raises the legitimate question of why something coveted by so many, continues to elude us? The irony is that virtually everybody wants clean water until they have to actually sacrifice or take proportional measures in order to get it. Sure, clean water is great as long we can win the next election, make the maximum profit on the next construction job, maintain the waterfront view, get jobs and economic development, and if nobody will get upset.

Let’s face it, building rain gardens, planting trees, and conducting trash cleanups next to the river simply don’t compensate for all the chicken manure, poorly regulated sewage plants, coal waste and stormwater runoff pouring into our streams and rivers. Do the water quality losses outweigh the gains? The deplorable state of our region’s waterways suggests that is exactly the case. It seems somehow that perfectly good environmental programs have become an end unto themselves instead of a means toward an end. As long as all stakeholders do no more than is expedient while mouthing the best of intentions, then the status quo continues even when the best that we are collectively inclined to do voluntarily is insufficient. So, what’s it going to take to clean up the Bay? Literally speaking, making protection of water compulsory, since voluntary hasn’t worked.

And for those who argue that cleaning up the environment will cost us jobs and economic development–what was the first clue that our economy is affected by both prudent and poor stewardship of natural resources? It has always been obvious that wrecking the waterways is a faster and easier “buck” than protecting them. Our big tactical mistake as an environmental community is to have given folks the impression that they can have clean water without changing business as usual; while maintaining jobs that pollute; and by adopting a collaborative posture with enterprises that inherently profit from pollution. As a result, when we try and propose genuine solutions that are proportional to the environmental problems, our adversaries act as though we pulled the rug out from under them.

It is simply not possible to clean up the Bay if we generally promote good news as a lure to make the public feel positive about what is being done.

Truthfully, the only changes that will be reflected in measurable water quality gains are the ones that are compulsory and that require systemic reforms. The sort of change that at times disrupts accustomed ways of doing business, how we lead our daily lives, and make our money. Isn’t it interesting that on the eve of the implementing the watershed implementation plans and the long awaited “Total Maximum Daily Loads” that various industry groups are filing challenges, declining to participate, and crying foul? It reveals at last that while these measures were always implied, that some of us only intended to abide by them up until the point these measures became mandatory.

Plainly, what it will take to clean up the bay, is to actually do it.

5 Responses to No More Bay Business As Usual

  1. Excellent … thanks, Fred. I concur in your assessment of what is needed.

    I’ve had it with “happy talk” about how volunteerism and corporate good will, nice though they be, can ever cure watershed ills.

    The CWA and CAA have worked ONLY when a regulatory evening of the playing field occurs, all parties obliged under penalty of law to implement truly effective measures.

    For the Chesapeake Bay watershed, the measures more likely to succeed than all the others are: widespread reforestation of land, and widespread retrofit of environmental site design (not merely new development). NEITHER are even on the legal and regulatory radar screen.

  2. The General Assembly needs to pass a law requiring that every farm be in “baseline compliance” (in order to maintain their ag preferential property tax rate) by having a conservation plan, new updated nutrient management plan, address the runoff from all animal concentration areas (barnyards, feedlots, sacrifice lots, etc.), buffer every stream by excluding livestock with fencing, provide off-stream watering facilities, stabilized stream crossings and that soil loss is at “T” or less. Also, every farm tract should the Inventory – Assessment & Planning Tool I developed performed on them to document what is out there on the ground sub-watershed by sub-watershed. Why doesn’t anyone want to document the good, the bad and the ugly that is out there? The State’s WIP 2-year milestone shows a goal of over 250,000 acres of conservation planning every 2 years. Over 5 cycles that would be over 1,000,000 acres of conservation plans.

  3. Compulsory but Market Drive! We have spent millions to “clean” the Bay and we will spend millions more, let’s start doing it right.

    The EPA has reported that higher density development is better for water quality, but try to get that approved! Everyone comes out with pitchforks and torches….you know who you are!

    If we let the market compete for clean up money, we will get the best projects with the greatest N and P reductions for the least cost. This is better than a prescriptive approach that everyone fights and tries to get away with the minimum necessary.

    The money to fund this is already there and can be supplemented with each sector paying their fair share through fees and…dare I say it…taxes as necessary to implement projects that achieve the goals.

    This also means a change to the status quo, bloated governments and non-profits may not get the money they are used to getting to fund projects that may not be getting the biggest N and P bang for our buck. Private sector companies might actually get the money and do projects that actually achieve the results we are looking for.

    You are right, it is time for a change!

  4. I couldn’t agree more. After retiring, I spent the first year volunteering on CBF’s Oyster Restoration Project at Discovery Village. I was there almost every day. We put shell on beds, grew larvae in tanks, put the “seeded” shell on the beds; the whole nine yards. Then the experts came from CBF to examine results. Yes, the oysters developed; no they were not reproducing on the beds. That made the task very depressing to me. So I quit the project and moved to the West/Rhode River Keeper to help with water quality testing. After a few weeks I began to wonder about the usefulness, long term, of the weekly maintenance of water quality data when we know for sure that it’s not good and not getting any better. So, eventually gave that up also. Over the years prior to retirement, I had also helped out in a few CBF sponsored stream side improvement projects, which I consider more helpful to the people doing the work than actually making a dent in Bay improvement. That’s not to say that these projects aren’t worth doing. But in the long term scheme of things they are not going to have noticeable impact as long as the big issues that Fred has identified are not addressed.
    And we’re not going to get that until the elected officials accept the responsibility of taking on Big Chicken and the developers. We can’t expect the EPA to be the “bad cop” for us if we’re unwilling to confront the villains on our on terf.