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The Best of the Bay ~ Every Week Since 1993
Volume 16, Issue 1 ~ January 3 - January 9, 2008

Where We Live
by Steve Carr

Bay Cheer for a New Year

Enough, already, with all the bad news

It’s a new year and I think we need to chart a fresh environmental course, starting with the way we keep trying to Save the Bay.

Every year, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation gives us a lump of coal in our holiday stocking, informing us in exquisite detail about the horrid state of the Bay. Will Baker, the Foundation’s executive director, introduced this year’s report card with the solemn pronouncement, “The Chesapeake Bay is on life support, fighting for survival. Are we going to save it, or are we going to let it die?”

On a 100-point scale, the Bay rated a 28, one point lower that last year. And that was with an A+ for rockfish, which recent surveys show to be malnourished and infected with a hideous disease that eats them alive.

The goal of the Bay champions is to get the Bay back to the days when John Smith first explored the Chesapeake. His Bay got a 70 on its retrospective report card.

Our modern Bay received failing or near-failing marks in every other category but wetlands, forested buffers and crabs. That’s a little curious in that no one knows exactly how many acres of wetlands exist, forest buffers are getting chewed up like there’s no tomorrow and the crab season — at least around Annapolis — was pretty abysmal.

After a quarter-century of crying wolf and throwing millions of dollars at the problem, the Bay’s health continues to worsen. Clearly, we need to learn from our mistakes.

A Modest Proposal

In the spirit of innovation, I offer the following over-the-top suggestions that may more accurately reflect the way most folks feel about our Bay.

Let’s start with the big two, nitrogen and phosphorous. They get blamed for algal blooms, low dissolved oxygen and dead zones. Well, who can say for sure that those things are bad? I mean, we aren’t the only ones experiencing massive dead zones. Virtually every bay in the world has them. I recently visited Brazil; its Guanabara Bay is one big dead zone. But that doesn’t stop people from flocking to Rio.

We need to get those Bay scientists to teach the fish and crabs how to escape from the dead zone. If the critters knew where the fire exits were, they could survive.

Water clarity is another key indicator. The water is so laden with sediment that it’s too muddy for light to penetrate, thus making it hard for underwater grasses to grow. I remember when the shallow reaches of the Bay were covered in grasses like a giant mat of tangled snakes. It was a real nuisance, making it hard to swim, and they were always getting tangled in your engine prop.

Toxics are another of those ballyhooed benchmarks. We have been dumping every chemical we make into the water, either directly or indirectly, through our sewer systems, and what harm has it caused? Sure, a few fish have some weird mutations. But chemicals aren’t the problem; they’re the solution. The scientists just need to figure out which chemicals we should add to the Bay to offset the bad stuff. It’s Chemistry 101.

Oysters and shad both got Fs in the latest test, and that is just pure nonsense. First off, no one except my editor eats shad. It’s a bony, oily fish that few have ever even seen. And oysters are disgusting. They filter the Bay. Need I say more?

A recent report from the Inspector General’s Office concluded that growth and development are outpacing our efforts to restore the Bay. The report is just more of the same doomsday drivel.

Development can help save the Bay. People need to spread out and stop bunching together. Not only will this be good for the economy, but it moves people farther away from the Bay. How can that be bad? Our motto should be: Sprawl, Don’t Build a Wall.

More people than ever enjoyed the Bay last year, and who noticed any excess nitrogen or dead zones? No one other than the complaining scientists.

We need to stop with the report cards and the pronouncements of doom and start putting all of these environmental problems to work for us.

Who wants to go back to the days of John Smith anyhow? I say, stop living in the past. It’s time to embrace the new, modern, less cluttered Bay.

And let’s just let hurricanes and sea-level rise do the rest.

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