Stalled Chesapeake Cleanup
Back to the future on cleaning the bay
Tuesday, November 25, 2008; Page A14
SHOW OF HANDS. How many of you were shocked -- shocked! -- to learn that the Chesapeake Executive Council decided last week to ditch its 25-year-old goal of cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay in favor of short-term achievements? Yeah, that's what we thought: none of you. The drive to cleanse one of the world's largest estuaries long has been swamped by overdevelopment and the lack of political will to make the hard decisions that would turn the dream of a pristine Chesapeake Bay into a reality.
Stating the obvious, Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) told at a meeting of the council, "The history of setting the 10-year goals has been, bluntly, a failure." And with that, the third deadline since 1983 to clean up the bay -- this time by 2010 -- was history. Now, the Chesapeake Executive Council wants to focus on attainable short-term goals. The only problem is that the council didn't articulate what those goals would be and said six more months of study would be needed before they could be specified. This is beyond ridiculous.
Things are bad in the 64,000 square miles of the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed, and it's no mystery why. Overdevelopment has changed the ecology of the region. Warm, polluted water flows unfiltered from paved surfaces into tributaries such as the Potomac River, which earned a D-plus for cleanliness this month from the Potomac Conservancy, for the second year in a row. Another problem is agricultural runoff, laden with nutrients that feed algal blooms and create oxygen-deprived dead zones. The result is a dirty bay and the dying-off of species that gave the waterway its vitality.
Missing have been consistent policies throughout the watershed that reduce the flow of pollutants into the Chesapeake. Widespread adoption of smart growth and green building methods would help; so would controlling agricultural runoff by instituting an enforceable system based on total maximum daily load of pollution in the bay and its tributaries. But until the leaders around the watershed display the courage to act -- rather than simply study -- no one will be surprised by the lack of progress when they announce that even the short-term deadlines they have