RESTORING  THE  CHESAPEAKE

by Arthur Hart

The Chesapeake Bay, with its 64,000 square mile watershed, is by far the largest estuary of its type on the globe and has by far, the greatest animal population per cubic foot of water.[1]  The human population alone exceeds 15 million people many of whom use public sewer facilities, which even though treated, dumps their waste into the bay and its tributaries.[2]  Every day, another 300 people move to the region to take advantage of what it has to offer.3  An estimated 661 million gallons of wastewater per day is discharged by the DC metropolitan area alone into the Potomac and thus into Bay waters.4

The first recorded history of the Bay and its surroundings was done by Captain John Smith as he explored the waters of the “new world.” Smith reported waters teaming with fish which jumped from the approach of the oncoming boat and flights of birds that darkened the sky.

  Beginning with the first English settlement, trees were cut, soil was tilled and domestic animals were introduced. This led to the introduction of soil particles and animal waste into the waters. Later, petroleum necessary for machinery and industrial waste further tainted the waters once explored by Captain Smith.

  Time passed, populations of humans and animals grew and more forests were replaced with agriculture, rooftops and paved surfaces. These changes resulted in faster surface water runoff, which transports tons of natural and man-made waste into the water. One report states that the three-year petroleum leakage from DC metro area motor vehicles exceeds the petroleum of the Valdez oil spill.5

  After witnessing declining marine flora and fauna and continuing declines in water quality, man sought to curb such deteriation by adopting lifestyle management practices to begin restoration. A 1994 survey showed that 86% of bay watershed dwellers favor restoration of the Bay environment.6  But, survey questions were answered without benefit of cost or time estimates. Perhaps some envisioned the fish jumping and the birds darkening the sky.

  Congress responded to the voices calling for Bay restoration and subsequently the Chesapeake Bay Protection Act was enacted and assigned to the US Environmental Protection Agency. Enforcement began, standards were set and numerous state and local government laws, regulations and standards followed. All this resulted in changes, which limited discharges and runoff. Although this action had positive results, it has been both expensive and limited. Regulatory officials admit that the “low growing fruit has all been picked” and now we must really set about the more difficult and costly tasks needed for further Bay restoration.

  Industrial, municipal, commercial, and agricultural interests have been required to invest heavily in pollution control equipment and methodology in order to meet the existing, simple standards. Now, as standards are tightened, much of this earlier technology will soon be declared obsolete and even greater expenditures will be necessary to meet any regulations and pollution control standards. Some of these new life rules will render commercial operations inefficient and result in closure. Municipalities will simply raise taxes to purchase ever increasing “better” equipment. But make no mistake – either way, consumers and the public pays.

  All this, when the real problem is the fact that 15+ million humans and nearly as many wild and domestic animals reside in the Bay watershed. All are nutrient generators and nutrients find their way into the waters, feeding the algae which clouds the water thus restricting necessary sunlight needed for submerged underwater vegetation to survive and serve as a nursery for marine life.

  Critters (Bay watershed dwellers) live, play and work in a relatively high tech environment. Many natural and manmade, everyday substances find their way into the waters. Daily, critters contribute to the load of impurities the Bay must bear. Would people today be as interested in restoration if they were informed of estimates of either time and cost of undertaking Bay restoration? The Bay Program estimates a cost of $1.1 billion per year with Virginia paying the highest amount.7  New estimates for cleanup of the entire Bay and its tributaries though 2010 are for $19 billion.8 Now that the “low hanging fruit has been picked”, strong measures must be taken to limit further inflow of all undesirable substances and sediment. Future action must include strict management of all sources of pollution caused by humans, animals, machines and soil disturbance. Future plans must be made for addressing all sources of inflow of such undesirable substances.

  US EPA has set the next “ratchet down” deadline at 2010. Virginia and Maryland officials are now developing plans to bring about the next level of “improvement.” Such restrictions will only tighten the noose. Rather than another tightening of the noose, citizens should be given a defined plan, which itemizes all the necessary requirements, regardless of the impact on humans, commerce and government. Intermediate goals could then be set to accomplish portions of the overall effort needed to restore the Bay in order that we may see the fish jump and the birds darken the sky.

  Individuals who voted in favor or restoration can then consider the cost, the time and the restrictions, which will be placed upon all Bay watershed residents.  Given this once unavailable information, Bay area dwellers might even call for a new vote on Bay area cleanup with all facts and impacts fully considered.

  Consider for example the drastic measures, which must be taken to reduce all nutrient and sediment inflow to levels of the 17th century. Since every animal, including humans, is a nutrient generator; since all tilled or disturbed soil is a source of sediment; and since petroleum based compounds abound, the following steps as shown in ‘The GET REAL Schedule’ below will be necessary if we are to restore the Bay. Even if the 2010 date is extended, such harsh action will only be delayed. Watershed dwellers can then decide the degree of pain they are willing to endure to restore the Bay so they see the fish jump and the birds darken the sky.

 

  The GET   REAL Schedule

Years                           Action necessary on the Bay and its tributaries

1-2       -Eliminate all populations of mute swans and the resident non-migratory strain of  Canada geese.

-Eliminate all use of recreational petroleum powered watercraft and off road recreational vehicles. This will also aid in the shoreline erosion effort.

-Begin a five year phase out of recreational animals including cats, dogs and horses not using septic animal waste disposal facilities.

-Completely discontinue use of fertilizers on lawns, golf courses, athletic fields, parks, cemeteries, and other non-crop areas.

2-5      -Establish buffer zones of 100 yards along all streams, ¼ mile along all rivers, and ½ mile along all bay shoreline.

            -Begin moving all domestic livestock and poultry operations and replace them with crops where soil permits and with forest where it does not.

            -Discontinue approval of all commercial/residential construction with connection to municipal sewer systems and only approve construction with septic or composting systems.

            -Discontinue all laundry, car wash and other high water use commercial/ industrial establishments, which discharge nitrogen and phosphorus and which do not recycle.

            -Permit construction processes for “grey water” usage.

            -Require 100-yard buffers along waterways where timber is harvested.

            -Require closed systems on all mining operations.

            -Require closed systems on all fish processing facilities.

-Require closed storm water management systems on all uncovered surfaced parking lots to prevent petroleum leakage runoff.

-Develop tests and then standards to limit vehicular petroleum leakage.

3-7         -Prohibit new residential housing within 100 yards of shorelines and wetlands and on slopes greater than 20%.

-Permit housing developments only on well-drained areas where storm water can be held and, by using low impact development (LID) practices, be allowed to soak into the ground of the building lots and other acreage on which it falls.

-Use LID everywhere possible to help replenish the groundwater supply.

In the year 2010, throw a watershed wide celebration party honoring the 15+ million bay watershed dwellers all of whom sacrificed something to help the Congress and the US EPA meet the goal of RESTORING THE CHESAPEAKE.


[1] Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay   http://www.bayjournal.com/97-03/bay.htm

[2] See http://www.chesapeakebay.net/land.htm

3 See http://www.chesapeakebay.net/pop.htm

4 Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments   http://www.mwcog.org

5 Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments   http://www.mwcog.org

6 Survey by the Bay Program  http://www.bayjournal.com/94-06/survey.htm  http://www.bayjournal.com/02-10/percep.htm

7 Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay   http://www.bayjournal.com/03-01/costs.htm

8  “The $19 billion works out to about $1,270 per person residing in the watershed, or about $160 a year through 2010. In reality, though, the money would come from a variety of sources, including state, federal and local governments and the private sector.”  http://www.bayjournal.com/02-12/cost.htm

 

Arthur Hart lives in the Potomac watershed at 33 Ruffian Drive, Stafford, VA 22556

July 2003/conservation.bay