The Ch­e­sa­peake’s dis­mal fore­cast with­out the Clean Water Rule

The Washington Post Sunday - - LOCAL OPINIONS - BY STEVE KLINE The writer, a sev­enth-gen­er­a­tion Mary­lan­der who lives on the East­ern Shore, is direc­tor of gov­ern­ment re­la­tions for the Theodore Roo­sevelt Con­ser­va­tion Part­ner­ship.

As I write this, clean-water ad­vo­cates look with worry to Wash­ing­ton, where the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency has an­nounced the process for re­peal­ing and re­plac­ing a rule meant to clar­ify which wa­ters are pro­tected by the Clean Water Act. For the sake of the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay, the Clean Water Rule is one Obama-era ac­tion that Pres­i­dent Trump and EPA Ad­min­is­tra­tor Scott Pruitt should think about keep­ing.

The re­peal ef­fort comes on the heels of the pres­i­dent’s fis­cal year 2018 fed­eral bud­get, which pro­posed the elim­i­na­tion of the EPA’s Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Pro­gram. About two-thirds of this $73 mil­lion an­nual pro­gram is sent to states across the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay wa­ter­shed, in­clud­ing Mary­land, to help re­duce pol­lu­tion in the bay and re­store water qual­ity in lo­cal streams and rivers far re­moved from the main-stem Ch­e­sa­peake — such as those in New York and Pennsylvania. A House panel pro­posed $60 mil­lion in fund­ing.

When it comes to get­ting pol­lu­tion out of our wa­ters, the gov­ern­ment faces two choices: in­cen­tive or reg­u­la­tion, the car­rot or the stick. Most folks pre­fer the gen­tler route of in­cen­tive rather than the some­times coarse ap­pli­ca­tion of the reg­u­la­tory stick, par­tic­u­larly when very few are pol­lut­ing wa­ters in­ten­tion­ally. This is a real-world ap­pli­ca­tion of the old con­cept that you gather more flies with honey than with vine­gar.

Taken to­gether, reg­u­la­tion and re­ward can be a recipe for the suc­cess­ful restora­tion of es­tu­ar­ies such as the Ch­e­sa­peake. Un­for­tu­nately, the EPA’s ac­tion will take us two steps back­ward, marginal­iz­ing reg­u­la­tion and in­cen­tive — one as too bur­den­some and the other as too costly. Fail­ure seems as­sured.

Be­tween the Clean Water Act and the EPA’s Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Pro­gram, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment had two hands firmly on the wheel of Ch­e­sa­peake restora­tion. The changes we’ve seen com­ing out of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion re­cently would seem to leave the bay restora­tion ef­fort with­out a clear driver.

In Mary­land, the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay is an iconic and proud part of our iden­tity. But its story be­gins in small runs and creeks hun­dreds of miles away, in town­ships and bor­oughs that have no ob­vi­ous con­nec­tion to the bay. Ask­ing peo­ple to care about some­thing they don’t of­ten see is a dif­fi­cult propo­si­tion. Ask­ing elected of­fi­cials to spend scant tax rev­enue to clean up an es­tu­ary wholly out­side their ju­ris­dic­tion is a tall or­der.

But we sim­ply can­not have a clean Ch­e­sa­peake or the work­ing com­mer­cial wa­ter­fronts and mas­sive re­cre­ation econ­omy the bay sup­ports with­out pro­tect­ing those far-up­stream head­wa­ters. Of course, we pro­tect those wa­ters not only for the bay’s sake but also for their own sake; for those wa­ters are in many cases the trout streams of Pennsylvania and pro­vide the drink­ing water of New York.

Now is not the time for the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to aban­don the Ch­e­sa­peake. In a wa­ter­shed as large and di­verse as the bay’s, cov­er­ing 64,000 square miles and parts of six states and the District of Columbia, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment has an es­sen­tial and ap­pro­pri­ate role: to help en­sure that there is one co­or­di­nated, wa­ter­shed-wide restora­tion ef­fort, not sev­eral dis­parate and un­equal in­di­vid­ual ef­forts.

All of this is com­ing af­ter the Na­tional Oceanic and At­mo­spheric Ad­min­is­tra­tion re­leased study data that fore­cast a larg­erthan-nor­mal bay “dead zone” — an area of such low oxy­gen lev­els that fish and other aquatic life can­not live. Mon­i­tor­ing the bay’s dead zone has be­come al­most a sum­mer rit­ual, as whole swaths of the Ch­e­sa­peake be­come bi­o­log­i­cal deserts un­able to host the bay’s iconic blue crab and striped bass.

This fore­cast should mo­ti­vate ev­ery­one in the wa­ter­shed to do more, not less, and that cer­tainly in­cludes the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency.

JONATHAN NEW­TON/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

Schooners make their way un­der the Bay Bridge for the Great Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Schooner Race last year.

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