Checking the health of the bay
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.