Volume XI, Issue 49 ~ December 4-10, 2003

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Another Big Date for Your December Calendar

We know. Your December calendar’s as fat as the holiday goose, and just what you don’t need is another red letter day marked up on it.

Still, December 9 is a date every Chesapeake citizen needs to have in mind. That’s the date the Chesapeake Bay Executive Council gets together — this year at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia — for its annual meeting on the state of the Bay.

You probably haven’t heard much about this date, and, since most of us are busy on Tuesdays with work and school, you probably won’t be there to get a close look at the deliberations of Gov. Robert Ehrlich and the rest of the Executive Council. But what the governors of the five Bay watershed states, the mayor of Washington and the administrator of the EPA do — or don’t do — on Tuesday will touch us all right where we live.

There’s special suspense in this year’s meeting, for 2003 is the 20th anniversary of the Chesapeake Bay Agreement. Back in 1983, that unprecedented regional agreement yoked Bay states, the District of Columbia and a score of federal agencies in an unmatched cooperative effort — with no end in sight and no certain funding.

For the first 10 or so of those years, the partnership seemed busy getting the problem in hand. Indeed, a massive effort was mounted, an elephant-size batch of bureaucratic alphabet soup brewed. Through the 1990s, the bureaucracy kept chugging away. Reports and releases flew heavy as ducks in the Bay’s old, healthy past.

But by the millennium, when we were supposed to start seeing a better Bay, you couldn’t help wondering whether this train was going anywhere.

It missed its first destination, reducing nitrogen pollution by 40 percent.

By the end of 2002, the costs of meeting the new 10-year goals of the 2000 Chesapeake Bay Agreement had been calculated: $19 billion, with only about $6 billion committed.

By 2003, experts were laying odds that 2010 goals wouldn’t be met. More likely was 2030, said the EPA Bay Program, for the biggest of those goals.

Now scientists and advocates are saying that by almost every measure, the Bay is as bad as ever — if not worse.

So when the Executive Council gets together December 9, they’ve got a past to account for. More importantly, they’ve got a future to make.

The path has already been laid out for them. The best way to get a hand on the Bay’s problems, the scientists and advocates now say, is to reduce the flow of nitrogen by 110 million pounds.

In the short term — that’s 2010 — 40 million pounds of that load could be stopped by better wastewater treatment. Specifically, that’s biological nutrient reduction to take nitrogen in treated water down to three to five parts per million.

This week, Chesapeake Bay Foundation laid out the steps in a challenge to the federal EPA. By discharging nitrogen, plants and industrial facilities are violating the Clean Water Act, the Foundation charged. A clean Bay needs enforceable limits, funding to get plants there and compulsion to make sure they follow through.

Whether that happens depends in large part on the actions of the Executive Council.
We’re watching what it does on December 9, and we hope you are, too. We can’t do much about what happens in Washington, but what happens in our Bay is closer to hand.



© COPYRIGHT 2003 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.
Last updated December 4, 2003 @ 1:35am.