Volume 14, Issue 12 ~ March 23 - March 29, 2006

Where We Live

by Steve Carr

When Fairy Tales Come True

The Bay’s salvation is just around the corner from the next great study or computer model

Once upon a time, there was a phantasmagorical government program to save the Chesapeake Bay. Everybody in the realm was as happy as a clam, except, of course, the clams, which had long since died from too much sediment and disease. For many years the scientific alchemists spun their slender threads of hope into gold, and the people were joyful and content.

But the Bay continued its decline and storm clouds soon spread across the kingdom: The Bay is Dying.

Late last year, the federal General Accounting Office shed considerable light on this little fantasy. Our local senators, who finally started asking where all the Bay restoration money has gone, requested the audit.

The conclusion of the review was that our much-touted Bay Program is floundering in a sea of confusion.

“The Bay Program not only downplays the deteriorated condition of the Bay, but also confuses the reader by mixing information that is relevant with information that is irrelevant,” the audit reported.

The audit had more to criticize: Money has been continually misdirected; the Program’s model doesn’t work; there is no plan for reaching the program’s 102 restoration goals; and there is no comprehensive approach for measuring success.

I am reminded of a cartoon that once appeared in a local paper, showing a boatload of the Bay Program reports being dumped into the water to soak up the pollution.

The Bay Programmers just don’t get it. To them, it’s all about the three M’s: modeling, monitoring and muddling. The Bay’s salvation is just around the corner from the next great study or computer model.

But we have studied the Chesapeake Bay to death.


The Corps of Engineers produced a gargantuan study of the Bay way back in 1971. At almost two feet thick, it concluded that nitrogen and phosphorous were the two biggest threats to the Bay and targeted runoff from sewer treatment plants, the Susquehanna River, farms and airborne deposition as the main culprits.

In the ensuing 35 years, we have put monitoring buoys up and down the Bay, confirming the conclusions of the original study ad nauseum. We have funded studies out the yin-yang, from why the oysters are dying to how to win the hearts and minds of the public through fancy TV ads.

In response to the scathing GAO audit, the Bay savers chimed in with one loud voice. We need more money! This notion was given some credibility by the audit itself, which concluded that “Although $5.6 billion has been spent in the last decade, estimates for the amount of funding needed to restore the Bay far surpass these figures.”

Only in fantasyland would a quarter century of money down a rat hole illicit a resounding chorus of Give them more!

But in Bay World, we continually reward mismanagement and lack of inertia with increased funding.

The Bay Program has made a mockery of restoring America’s largest estuary. A recent executive report from the Program’s own Budget Steering Committee notes that “the lion’s share of the Bay Program’s energy has been devoted to: defining the criteria to support the overarching goal of protecting living resources, transforming these into standards, determining appropriate nutrient and sediment caps, preparing tributary strategies, ensuring that the needed monitoring program is in place to measure progress, and ensuring that the tracking and modeling tools are in place to assess and reassess management actions.”

This year, Rep. Wayne Gilchrest and company sponsored House Bill 4126, which would allocate $40 million a year for the Bay Program, with another $10 million a year for the Small Watershed Grants Program.

Whether $50 million a year is enough to restore the Bay is moot, because President Bush told the Maryland and Virginia Congressional delegations to go pound some Bay sand.

The Bush budget for 2007 includes $26 million for Bay restoration. That’s a $4 million increase. But it eliminates the Small Watershed Grants Program, the Targeted Watershed Grants Program and direct grants to sewer treatment plants. It slashes the Clean Water State Revolving Fund. In other words, every program that actually does something. Almost all of the Bay cleanup money will now go to science.

As long as we are still studying global warming or the impending demise of the Chesapeake Bay, there’s no reason to do anything to really save the Bay, let alone the planet.

We need not sacrifice or make any really tough decisions because it will be business as usual until the studies have all been completed.

When will that be?

When fairy tales come true.

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