Scientists say current Chesapeake Bay cleanup a failure
U.S. Water News Online
ANNAPOLIS, Md. —Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts over the past 25 years have failed to stop environmental decline in the nation's largest estuary, and mandatory and enforceable action is needed to revive its waters, researchers and environmental academics said.
The group, which includes bay researchers Walter Boynton, of the Chesapeake Biological Laboratory, and former state lawmakers, spoke out about the bay's deterioration on the eve of the 25th anniversary of the Chesapeake Bay Agreement.
Poor water quality caused by pollution from nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous has harmed the blue crab population, destroyed underwater grasses and hurt bay fish.
The main problem, they say, is that past policy has relied on nonbinding agreements instead of enforceable laws. Consequently, officials in states within the Chesapeake Bay watershed have signed agreements that carry little meaning. Instead, the federal government and state officials need to work toward enforceable limits and precise monitoring — along with stiff sanctions for violations — to significantly lower pollution.
Gerald Winegrad, a former state senator who attended the 1983 signing of the agreement in Virginia, said a group of scientists and policy advocates gathered last week to form a statement on failed policies of the past. Winegrad said scientists who generally keep mum on politics decided it was time to speak out.
“People are just basically very, very depressed about what's going down on the bay — that we keep this voluntary approach - and politicians keep shaving at the edges, and it really doesn't make that much difference what they're passing,” Winegrad said in an interview after a group announcement in Annapolis.
While the group believes progress has been made in the science of understanding what is wrong with the bay and what needs to be done, members contend a major push in a different regulatory direction is needed to revive its waters.
“The current approach has proven itself capable of slowing the decline of the bay, but it is inadequate to reverse the general downward trend,” said Howard Ernst, a professor of political science at the U.S. Naval Academy and author of “Chesapeake Bay Blues.”
Among the strategies the group is proposing:
- changing development patterns to reduce sprawl.
- reducing agricultural pollutants.
- improving fishery management to improve bay health.
- requiring pollution reduction on a river-by-river basis.
- reducing individual pollution loads.
Last month, leaders from states in the bay's watershed, including West Virginia, reiterated that they will not meet federal cleanup goals, and they said new strategies will keep restoration efforts alive. But environmental activists have filed a notice of intent to sue the federal Environmental Protection Agency to force pollution reduction, if stronger measures are not taken.
The 21-page notice claims the EPA has failed to obey the terms of the Clean Water Act and Chesapeake Bay agreements.
In Maryland, lawmakers approved a $50 million fund to fight pollution in the bay. But turbulent fiscal times caused the fund to be cut in half in the last legislative session, and another $5 million was shaved off in a recent round of budget cuts to make up for dropping state revenues.
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