United behind the bay
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.