Last summer's reports on dead zones, fish kills, and beach closures around the Chesapeake region prompted even the most committed environmentalists to ask themselves: Can the Bay be saved? Are our efforts really making a difference?
Tough questions?but the answer to both is yes. At the start of 2008, there are real, tangible signs that we're making progress in the fight to save the Bay and its rivers and streams?a fight made ever more difficult by the explosive population growth in the Bay region in recent decades.
Working with many committed partners, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation continues to focus on reducing pollution across the 64,000-square-mile Chesapeake watershed. In the past twelve months alone, we have successfully mobilized our supporters to demand that our elected officials direct public funds to address this pollution at its urban, suburban, and agricultural sources. And the results were gratifying. Important victories in 2007 resulted in millions in new funding to keep nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment from degrading our waterways.
We can take heart?and pride?in these successes in 2007:
In 2007, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to include increased conservation funding in the re-authorized Farm Bill to help Bay state farmers reduce the agricultural runoff that pollutes the Chesapeake and its tributaries. The crucial approval of $100 million annually for five years?which affirmed the federal government's essential role in restoring the nation's largest estuary?will go a long way toward addressing a leading cause of pollution in the Bay and its rivers and streams. In December, the Senate approved an alternate version of the bill; early in 2008, a conference committee will determine the exact appropriation. With farmers now able to count on more support in limiting runoff, the funding promises to be a real boost for water quality.
In addition, a CBF-led campaign to improve environmental education for our students (the future stewards of the Bay) gained traction on Capitol Hill, with more than 148 groups representing 17 million members joining together to support the "No Child Left Inside" act.
In July 2007, Pennsylvania passed one of the most innovative conservation laws in its history: the landmark Resource Enhancement and Protection Act (REAP). The law will result in annual, compounding reductions in pollution in Pennsylvania rivers, streams, and the Chesapeake Bay. It helps farmers who plan and implement proven water-quality measures by providing them with tax credits. Since January 2, when REAP applications began to be accepted, 159 farmers have signed up to take advantage of the $10 million program, and organizers hope to increase available credits in 2008.
On the ground, CBF and its Pennsylvania partners continue to lead the effort to filter water naturally, planting 300,000 new trees and shrubs and creating nearly 200 miles of forested stream buffers.
During a special November session to deal with the state's fiscal crisis, Maryland made a real breakthrough: a commitment to create a dedicated fund to reduce pollution and restore the state's rivers and the Bay. The General Assembly voted to deliver $50 million annually to help the state move forward with its Tributary Strategies, the "road map" to a cleaner Bay. Because the Chesapeake Bay 2010 Trust Fund is "dedicated," it will not be affected by competing needs in future budgets. Negotiations during the 2008 session will determine how the money will be allocated.Â
Maryland has also begun to see tangible returns from its 2004 Bay Restoration Fund, or "flush tax." Upgrades are underway at wastewater treatment plants across the state, which will decrease pollution now degrading the Bay and its rivers and streams.
In April, Virginia's General Assembly built upon its historic 2006 vote to fund additional upgrades to reduce pollution from sewage treatment plants, the largest single source of nitrogen fouling Virginia waters. With $250 million more in new Bay Bonds approved in 2007, the Commonwealth has now allocated a total of $550 million for wastewater treatment plant improvements.
Just one month later, the state's Supreme Court ruled unanimously that conservation groups like CBF can challenge the state's environmental decisions on behalf of their members?a right previously denied. The ruling clears the way for CBF to legally challenge state decisions that fail to protect Virginia rivers and the Bay.
Meanwhile, CBF oyster restoration projects in Virginia successfully planted millions of juvenile oysters, and CBF's annual Clean the Bay Day in June attracted more than 6,000 participants, an all-time record. Our next goal in Virginia: more state support for conservation measures by farmers.Â
The bottom line is that our common cause, bringing back the Bay, has achieved new momentum and new investment. State and federal governments are listening to our calls for action, and have responded with outstanding initiatives that will fund real progress. Yes, our efforts are making a difference, and with the support of nearly 200,000 members, we continue to believe that the Bay can and will be saved.
As Margaret Mead wrote: "Never doubt that a small group of committed individuals can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."