Check­ing the health of the bay

Maryland Independent - - Com­mu­nity Fo­rum -

This Sun­day, as he has done for the past 29 years, for­mer state sen­a­tor Bernie Fowler will join hands with friends, fam­ily and river ad­vo­cates and wade into the Patux­ent at Jef­fer­son Pat­ter­son Park and Mu­seum, just over the bridge in Calvert. We ex­pect the spry 93-year-old will wear his sig­na­ture over­alls and straw hat, as he wan­ders into the river un­til he can no longer see his sneak­ers, mark­ing the wa­ter’s depth level on his “Sneaker In­dex” — an in­for­mal means of mea­sur­ing the river’s clar­ity.

Of course, the Sneaker In­dex is by no means sci­en­tific, but its sym­bol­ism is a pow­er­ful re­minder of how im­por­tant con­ser­va­tion and fight­ing pol­lu­tion are.

The an­nual event draws a large crowd and, aside from pro­vid­ing a yearly ba­sis upon which to mea­sure and com­pare progress in wa­ter­shed cleanup ef­forts, serves as a plat­form for Fowler and his sup­port­ers to ad­vo­cate for con­tin­ued Patux­ent River and Ch­e­sa­peake Bay im­prove­ment ef­forts.

Last year’s Sneaker In­dex mea­sure­ment was 31 inches, down from 44 inches in 2015 (the high­est wa­ter clar­ity year in the wade-in’s his­tory). Fowler ad­mit­ted, though, that the lower clar­ity level in 2016 was prob­a­bly greatly owed to the windy day.

Fowler’s five decades of fight­ing state and fed­eral poli­cies to im­prove the wa­ter­way he grew up along and, by ex­ten­sion, the greater Ch­e­sa­peake Bay wa­ter­shed have not been in vain. Re­ports in re­cent years show the bay’s health is im­prov­ing, and en­vi­ron­men­tal ad­vo­cates and leg­is­la­tors alike at­tribute this to ac­tions taken at the state and fed­eral lev­els to re­duce pol­lu­tion and boost ecosys­tem health.

Of course, the past 12 months be­tween last year’s wade-in and this Sun­day’s event have been try­ing ones for lo­cal en­vi­ron­men­tal ad­vo­cates. Last July, an es­ti­mated nearly 2 mil­lion gal­lons of sewage over­flowed into the Patux­ent af­ter a Howard County waste­water treat­ment plant pipe be­came blocked. Af­ter so much ef­fort over the years, Fowler was dev­as­tated at that set­back to the river’s progress.

Then in March, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump re­leased a bud­get that rec­om­mended elim­i­nat­ing $73 mil­lion in En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency fund­ing for the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Pro­gram, a re­gional part­ner­ship that works across state lines to re­store the bay wa­ter­shed. While ad­mit­ting it had, for­tu­nately, lit­tle to no chance of re­ceiv­ing con­gres­sional ap­proval, both Democrats and Repub­li­cans in South­ern Mary­land spoke out against the pro­posal. But it brought into the light the no­tion that our lo­cal and re­gional bay restora­tion ef­forts could be on shakier ground un­der this ad­min­is­tra­tion.

So per­haps it’s more im­por­tant now than ever in the last sev­eral years to turn our col­lec­tive at­ten­tion to­ward the health of our wa­ter­ways. We en­cour­age all who share his con­cerns and love for the Patux­ent to join Fowler at 1 p.m. on Sun­day, June 11, at Jef­fer­son Pat­ter­son Park and Mu­seum. Whether you are wa­ter­men, farm­ers, stal­wart en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists or sim­ply those who en­joy recre­ation along the river, we urge you all to take the for­mer sen­a­tor’s hand this week­end and re­new the en­thu­si­asm to re­store this most pre­cious nat­u­ral re­source.

And an old pair of sneak­ers is rec­om­mended.

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