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Cleaning Up The Chesapeake: Maybe It Does Take a Village

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When folks think about the Chesapeake Bay, they often think only about the states of Maryland and Virginia and perhaps the District of Columbia. Focus outward a bit, however, and you see that seven states makeup the entire Chesapeake Watershed.

That’s an area of approximately 64,000 square miles where more than 17 million people make their homes. It’s the enormity of this area that has made cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay a challenge, to say the least.

But government officials and state leaders are hoping a new joint agreement between seven states and the District of Columbia will be the catalyst for change in turning around the Bay’s long decline. On June 16, governors from Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia, as well as officials from the Environmental Protection Agency, signed off on the Chesapeake Watershed Agreement, a plan that calls on every state within the Chesapeake watershed to do its part in cleaning up Bay Country.

The 20-page document outlines goals and deadlines that will help to create stable and sustainable Bay by reducing nutrient and sediment runoff, as well as pollution from toxic point-source contaminants. The plan also calls for continued efforts in reestablishing once prolific populations of blue crabs and oysters, which are today at a mere fraction of historic levels, and also preserving and restoring wetlands and underwater grass beds. It further calls for restoring populations of black ducks, forage fish such as Atlantic menhaden, and stream fish including native brook trout. The agreement calls for 2018 and 2025 as years when specific goals and outcomes will be met.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation lauds the agreement. “The Chesapeake Bay Foundation commends the leadership of Governor Martin O'Malley and Department of Natural Resources Secretary Joe Gill for their work on this new Chesapeake Bay Agreement. The agreement continues the region's commitment to the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint, as well as commitments to the Bay's crabs and oysters. The agreement also begins to tackle the challenges of global warming, toxics, and ensuring that tomorrow's leaders have a firm grounding in environmental literacy.”

But naysayers worry that self-enforcement aspects and arbitrary wording of the new agreement doom it from the start. Betsy Nicholas, executive director of Waterkeepers Chesapeake, says, "Each and every jurisdiction in the Bay has to do their share. We need a Bay Agreement with enforceable terms, not one that provides loopholes." David Flores, Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper adds, “The Bay States have included some important principles in the Agreement, but how will we achieve these goals on toxic contaminants, climate change, and environmental justice?" For this agreement to work, states must have concrete and transparent paths to reduce pollution and protect water quality and public health."

The agreement comes at a time when blue crabs are at their lowest numbers in years, striped bass are on the verge of being overfished, and oxygen-depleted dead zones still pop up in the Bay every summer, thanks to nutrient pollution. Here’s hoping real change is an outcome of the agreement. Click to download and read the full agreement.