United be­hind the bay

Maryland Independent - - Community Forum -

As we’ve seen time and time again in both our state leg­is­la­ture and in Washington, putting politics aside for the good of the peo­ple can be nearly im­pos­si­ble for most politi­cians. But on one is­sue, law­mak­ers from both sides of the po­lit­i­cal aisle seem to be join­ing forces, and we hope it has some im­pact.

Last week, law­mak­ers from Ch­e­sa­peake Bay water­shed states held a Capi­tol Hill meet­ing with mem­bers of the Choose Clean Wa­ter Coali­tion to voice bi­par­ti­san crit­i­cism of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s pro­posed bud­get that would cut funding for bay cleanup. The pres­i­dent an­nounced last month that his bud­get would elim­i­nate the $73 mil­lion fed­eral bay restora­tion ef­forts.

Rep. Dutch Rup­pers­berger (D-Md., 2nd) said the bay gen­er­ates more than $1 tril­lion each year, and Vir­ginia Rep. Rob Wittman (R) called the Ch­e­sa­peake “an eco­nomic en­gine” that must stay clean in or­der to pro­duce more ben­e­fit for the econ­omy. As Cap­i­tal News Ser­vice re­ports, it is the largest es­tu­ary in the coun­try that func­tions both for recre­ational uses and the com­mer­cial fish­ing and crab­bing in­dus­tries.

Ad­di­tion­ally, Choose Clean Wa­ter Coali­tion says the bay pro­vides drink­ing wa­ter for three-fourths of the re­gion’s 17 mil­lion res­i­dents.

As the Univer­sity of Mary­land’s Cap­i­tal News Ser­vice re­ported last week, the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Pro­gram started in 1983 as a part­ner­ship in­volv­ing six states — Mary­land, Vir­ginia, Delaware, West Vir­ginia, Penn­syl­va­nia and New York — and Washington, D.C. Re­ports in re­cent years have shown the bay’s health is fi­nally steadily im­prov­ing as a re­sult of th­ese ef­forts — and that more work is still needed. So why pull the funding now? En­vi­ron­men­tal ex­perts from the Univer­sity of Mary­land Cen­ter for En­vi­ron­men­tal Sci­ence’s Ch­e­sa­peake Bi­o­log­i­cal Lab in Solomons told the Calvert County com­mis­sion­ers April 4 the re­sults of their an­nual tidal creeks study show the qual­ity of the tested wa­ter­ways is on a down­ward trend, but the de­cline is slow­ing and the wa­ters are sta­bi­liz­ing.

That is both grim and promis­ing news all at once. As the bio lab’s Lora Har­ris told South­ern Mary­land News­pa­pers, “the good news is that we can see a slow­ing of that wors­en­ing — things aren’t nec­es­sar­ily ‘bet­ter,’ but they aren’t get­ting worse.”

As Har­ris ex­plained, this sta­bi­liza­tion can be at­trib­ut­able to bay im­prove­ment ef­forts im­ple­mented over the years, like cre­at­ing liv­ing shore­lines and in­stalling ni­tro­gen-re­mov­ing sep­tic sys­tems. And the bio lab rec­om­mends the county con­tinue its ef­forts to rid lo­cal wa­ter­ways of pol­lu­tion. Given the slow pace of progress through­out the bay water­shed, now is clearly not the time to stop or to cut funding for th­ese vi­tal ef­forts.

As Mary­land State Sen. Steve Waugh (R-Calvert, St. Mary’s) pointed out last month, the pres­i­dent’s bud­get as pro­posed is highly un­likely to be ap­proved by Congress. So we may have noth­ing to fear here at all — es­pe­cially since so many bay re­gion se­na­tors and con­gress­men are band­ing to­gether to vo­cal­ize their staunch re­sis­tance to this pro­posal to elim­i­nate the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Pro­gram.

But it’s the col­lab­o­ra­tive re­sis­tance we like to see. Restor­ing and pro­tect­ing this boun­ti­ful, his­toric es­tu­ary is a cause both Democrats and Repub­li­cans can get be­hind. The ben­e­fits are too im­por­tant to risk, and los­ing trac­tion on what grad­ual im­prove­ment we’ve made so far could be detri­men­tal to the health of our lo­cal wa­ter­ways and the life and liveli­hoods they sus­tain.

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