Where We Live
by Steve Carr
Ten Ways To Save the Bay
Here’s how to do it
Readers had lots to say about When Fairy Tales Come True, the critical piece I did on the General Accounting Office’s stinging audit of the Chesapeake Bay Program (Vol. xiv, No. 12: March 23). Many asked the same thing: What’s the solution?
Let’s start with two basic assumptions. First, most people are fed up with all the money that’s being spent on studying the Bay’s steady decline. Second, we should have the same expert panel who performed the recent GAO audit review the Chesapeake Bay Program’s next annual report and grade its progress.
That said, I offer 10 ways to save the Bay.
1. Local governments need to do a better job of regulating and protecting their back yards. Zoning ordinances should establish clear capacity limits. We can’t just keep cramming more and more people into the watershed and expect the health of the Bay to improve.
2. If we ever want to clean up the Bay, we need to go after the scofflaws, make the charges stick and then get them to clean up their act. Illegal construction should be dealt with swiftly. We need to hire more inspectors and then give them the authority to write immediate fines and penalties.
3. We know that arsenic in the Bay has gone up 20 percent since the 1970s. Of this total, approximately four percent comes from point-source pollution at industrial sites. The rest comes from piers, bulkheads, decks and other structures that drain directly into the Chesapeake. There are also other dangerous pollutants that are bad for the Bay, like chromium and PCBs. These toxics pose an even greater health risk than nitrogen and phosphorous, yet their presence in the environment is largely ignored.
4. The 1,650 local governments scattered across Bay Country should be playing a much greater role in the Bay Program. The Bay Program’s Community Partners Program rewards towns and counties that have adopted environmental regulations and practices that can benefit the Bay and mitigate development. To date, 73 awards have been given out. That means we only have 1,577 communities to go.
5. We also need to put more funding into the Small Watershed Grants Program. This is the only contact most local governments have with the Bay Program. If we assume the goal is to engage every municipality, the current funding level of $2 million translates into $1,212 for each.
6. On the same note, we need to soften the blow to local governments from unfunded mandates, like the Clean Water Act, by increasing Program grants beyond Small Watershed Grants. Locals need help funding their Bay restoration efforts. They don’t currently receive that financial assistance, leaving them to believe that the Bay Program expects them to sacrifice limited dollars to fix someone else’s problem.
7. We need to get each jurisdiction hooked on the notion that Bay restoration efforts actually impact their communities and that they can benefit from the Program. We must also bring New York, Delaware and West Virginia into the Bay family. If we can hook the local governments in each state, we will then have a significant and powerful congressional voting block (12 senators and 41 representatives) that sings with one voice on behalf of increased Bay funding.
8. We need to provide staff to go around the Bay conducting non-punitive assessments and audits of each of the 1,650 municipalities and jurisdictions. We then need to take the next step of providing free technical assistance so that each government entity can learn how to implement smart-growth initiatives. Local governments are being told to clean up the Bay. Many simply don’t know how.
9. As part of this outreach to local governments, the Bay Program should provide funding for the Peer Match Program so that environmentally friendly cities like Annapolis can help train sister cities. The people running Frederick are going to listen to the first-hand experiences of their counterparts in a similar town before they follow directions from scientists or the federal government. Annapolis helped do this last year with Lancaster Township and Aberdeen; both subsequently won environmental gold medals. A paltry $7,000 was budgeted for this entire Bay-wide initiative.
10. Regardless of federal funding levels, we should spend the money as follows:
• Sewer Treatment Plant Retrofits: 50 percent
• Agriculture: 20 percent
• Local Governments: 20 percent
• Administration/Monitoring/Studies: 10 percent
It isn’t the Chesapeake Bay Program’s fault the Bay is dying. The people running that aren’t the bad guys. They want to save the Bay as much the next person. But Congress needs to push them toward fixing, rather than studying. The best fixes happen at the local level. In the words of Benjamin Franklin: “Well done is better than well said.”