(Posted by Walter Boynton)
This post starts out sounding pretty pessimistic and full of gloom and doom. Some might think, “Heck, I just don’t want to read any more bad news about Chesapeake Bay, pollution and such stuff”. But, read on, the story has a ray of real hope at the end, or so I think.
In the past few years Tom Horton, an environmental writer who can write circles around me, has penned several thoughtful articles about environmental damage, pollution of estuaries and the like. And the focus of these pieces has been population growth and what we might want to do about this issue because it is so linked with pollution of every imaginable type.
Tom tells me the general response to these articles is…DEAD SILENCE. Nobody wants to take on this hot potato. In fact, most prefer to leave this potato nicely buried in the ground. But, we now have some 17 million of us living in the Chesapeake Basin and projections indicate more folks are continuing to move in; a basin population of 20 million is not too far off. So lots of people are causing our own Bay, river and stream pollution problems, problems that we have not been able to solve for the past 30 years.
I have my own population story and it runs along similar lines. I moved to Calvert County, Maryland in the spring of 1969. I had been living near Boston, the heart and soul of Yankee country, and a generally crowded place. As I drove deeper into Calvert County, on a single lane road with a noticeable lack of anything but trees, corn, soybean and tobacco fields, I came pretty close to heading back to Boston. For better or worse I stayed and became one of those who moved into Bay Country.
The population of Calvert County in 1969 was about 17,000 people, there were two stoplights in the entire county and the nearest movie theater was in Annapolis. No one bothered with the stop signs because it was obvious no one was coming! Calvert now sports a population of almost 90,000 people and has stoplights galore. Houses have popped up all over the place as have businesses, schools and restaurants. Not as rural as it used to be and a lot more paved.
Population is going up in the Chesapeake Basin and that causes additional stress on all our waterways, including the Bay. Perhaps as important, or more important, is that the rate that land is being paved is going up even faster. In other words, the paved area per person is larger now than it was a decade ago and is projected to be even larger in the next decade.
That means that water rushes off the land faster than it did in the past and this fast moving water tends to erode more land and carry more pollutants to streams and, eventually, the Bay. Both floods and droughts tend to be more severe as well. Some researchers have estimated that about twice as much freshwater reaches the Bay today than in the time of John Smith (about 1600). Quite the change!
Part two of this post is more interesting, and I hope, more positive.
I’ll be talking about Dr. Grace Brush, a long-term faculty member at Johns Hopkins University. Grace and her students use a variety of techniques to “look back in time,” to reconstruct what the Chesapeake Bay and watershed looked like in the past….even as far back as 14,000 years ago.