Strengthen bay cleanup ef­forts

Maryland Independent - - Community Forum - Bernie Fowler, Prince Fred­er­ick Fowler is a former state sen­a­tor.

Did you know that, start­ing this year, June 4-12 is Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Aware­ness Week? It’s time for each and ev­ery one of us to stop what we are do­ing and re­al­ize what we have. Ch­e­sa­peake Bay is a re­mark­able re­source that pro­vides some­thing very spe­cial in our lives. Like ar­ter­ies in the liv­ing body, the rivers, streams and marshes of the bay bind us to­gether.

As a teenager, I re­mem­ber wad­ing into a Patux­ent River teem­ing with clams, crabs, fish and oys­ters. The river was so clear I could look down in shoul­der-deep wa­ter and see blue crabs scur­ry­ing for deeper wa­ter. In the 1950s, com­mer­cial wa­ter­men earned as much as $5,000 each in about 50 hours sein­ing for croak­ers. Now the clams and un­der­wa­ter grasses have dis­ap­peared be­cause of pol­lu­tion and over-har vest­ing. And croak­ers, al­ready chal­lenged by cold winters, are harder to find.

Things have been worse. When the bay was in real trou­ble back in the 1970s, there was a ris­ing tide of con­cern. Peo­ple re­al­ized pol­luted runoff from sewage, stormwa­ter from cities and farms and air de­po­si­tion were killing the bay. They wanted to do some­thing about it — and they did.

Within a decade, we cre­ated the most im­por­tant cleanup ef­fort ever seen any­where. The states and fed­eral govern­ment be­gan work­ing to­gether to re­duce nutri­ents and sed­i­ment flow­ing to the bay. The Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Com­mis­sion, and later the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Pro­gram, set new poli­cies to con­trol sewage and stormwa­ter treat­ment, pro­tect open space and re­duce runoff from farms. Even though our pop­u­la­tion has grown to nearly 18 mil­lion, we have man­aged to main­tain or im­prove con­di­tions in many parts of the bay.

Blue crab pop­u­la­tions, on the verge of col­lapse in 2008, dou­bled their num­bers in just four years as the re­sult of care­ful har­vest­ing re­stric­tions. Sea grasses, which need clear wa­ter to thrive, are be­gin­ning to come back in a num­ber of ar­eas, es­pe­cially on the Susque­hanna Flats. And in the main stem of the bay, dis­solved oxy­gen — which all bay life needs to sur­vive — has started to in­crease.

In small wa­ter­sheds like Mat­ta­woman Creek, where vig­i­lant pol­lu­tion con­trol ef­forts have been made, nu­tri­ent loads have gone down. Wa­ter qual­ity has dra­mat­i­cally im­proved, al­gal blooms have de­creased by a fac­tor of five and sea grasses have re­bounded might­ily.

But now is not the time to be­come com­pla­cent and throt­tle back our ef­forts. We are see­ing very pos­i­tive changes be­cause of the work we have done over many decades. We can­not slacken our ef­forts just when things are be­gin­ning to turn around. We have got to get fired up like never be­fore and get this bay clean.

Our bay — the third-largest es­tu­ary in the world — is one of the most vi­tal fish­eries on Earth. In 2012, Mary­land and Vir­ginia to­gether har­vested a half-bil­lion pounds of seafood val­ued at $3.34 bil­lion in an­nual sales. What if all our im­paired rivers got cleaner ev­ery year, just like Mat­ta­woman Creek? Our fish­ery’s wealth would rise for gen­er­a­tions to come. More im­por­tantly, our chil­dren would know a clean Ch­e­sa­peake Bay.

In my home river, the Patux­ent, wa­ter qual­ity has not im­proved very much, de­spite our best ef­forts. Ev­ery June, I wade into the river with river lovers and friends un­til we can no longer see our feet. I’ll do it again at 1 p.m. this Sun­day, June 12, at Jef­fer­son Pat­ter­son Park and Mu­seum. In 20 years, I haven’t got­ten much be­yond my waist. We are not do­ing enough to re­duce pol­lu­tion in the Patux­ent. It is true there may be other rea­sons wa­ter qual­ity in the Patux­ent is flag­ging, in­clud­ing pol­lu­tion that may be com­ing in from the main stem of the bay.

We can’t im­prove con­di­tions in just one or two trib­u­taries and ex­pect that to be enough. The health of the whole wa­ter­shed de­pends on the health of all its parts. We need to dou­ble down in ever y wa­ter­shed to re­store ev­ery part of the bay if we are to call this restora­tion ef­fort a suc­cess. Let’s fo­cus on our part.

We have been at this cleanup for a long time. Some­times I worry my me­mory of the way things used to be is fad­ing from pub­lic view. I also worry peo­ple will tire of the ef­fort with­out demon­stra­ble gain. I don’t sense the en­thu­si­asm of many years ago. Our re­cent suc­cesses give us great hope, but we must con­vey to all Ch­e­sa­peake cit­i­zens that we can­not rest on our lau­rels. Let’s ac­cel­er­ate and make more good things hap­pen.

I am 92. I don’t know how long I’ll be around, but my great-grand­chil­dren will be here for decades to come. If we keep up our ef­forts and rein­vig­o­rate pub­lic sup­port, maybe some­day they will be able to wade shoul­der deep into the Patux­ent, look down at the bot­tom and see their feet. Our rivers and our Ch­e­sa­peake are price­less. Let us never, never, never give up.

To find an­other bay aware­ness event near you, go to www. chesa­peake­bay.net/take­ac­tion/events.

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