Search Search Google
Volume 16, Issue 50 - December 11 - December 17, 2008
Home \\ This Week's Features \\ Classifieds \\ Dining Guide \\ Home & Garden Guide \\ Editorial \\ Letters to the Editor \\ Archives \\ Distribution Locations

Where We Live
by Steve Carr

Scientists in Wonderland

Now everybody knows the Chesapeake has a problem

The headline was laughable. “Experts — Chesapeake Bay Program Has Failed.”

Commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Chesapeake Bay Agreement, the experts dragged their collective soapbox to Annapolis and stood on it to announce that the Bay Program’s collaborative approach — based on a regional framework and the voluntary kindness of strangers — has been an abysmal failure. Apparently, trickle down doesn’t work when it comes to improving the water quality of Chesapeake Bay.

The experts are now crowing for mandatory, enforceable measures to require the Bay states to meet the nutrient, sediment and toxic chemical reductions agreed to back in 1983, when fixing the Bay seemed possible and politicians gladly promised that our children would inherit a healthy Chesapeake.

“The current Bay Program and restoration efforts have been insufficient and are failing to achieve water quality to assure healthy populations of oysters, clams and finfish,” exclaimed Bill Dennison, a veteran scientist from the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science at Horn Point.

“We must act quickly to transition from the voluntary collaborative approach that has failed to a comprehensive regulatory program that addresses the prime sources of nutrient and sediment pollution, or watch the bay die a death of 1,000 cuts,” Dennison continued. “Drastic change is called for.”

Who are these experts now sounding this long overdue alarm?

Mostly scientists. The same scientists who have suckled the government tit for decades, pumping out study after study, monitoring every aspect of the Bay’s demise and blowing their collective smoke in everyone’s faces.

In any given year, 75 percent of Bay Program dollars go to funding scientific research. The Budget Steering Committee, the scientists who control the Bay Program purse strings, have refused to fund pretty much anything but more science and professional double-talk.

I tried to fix the Bay Program for years. My modest proposal was that federal dollars should go to local governments for on-the-ground restoration projects. I had this crazy idea that since all of the problems killing the Bay are initiated at the local level, we should focus our attention there.

Annapolis Mayor Ellen Moyer and I proposed a circuit rider — someone with actual local government experience — be hired to help local governments around the entire Chesapeake, especially far afield in rural parts of the region, get greener. We were told there wasn’t enough money. We were asking for $100,000 out of $25 million.

Where did all that money go? Installing smart buoys, producing predictive models, monitoring for nitrogen and phosphorus and justifying to Congress why the taxpayers should keep throwing money at the Bay.

Now the scientists are the ones condemning the Bay Program. The nerve! After helping to sponge up nearly $625 million over the course of the last quarter-century studying and putzing around, the scientists are finally tired of all this waste.

“We in the scientific community have seen strong evidence in our research that efforts to reduce nutrients and sediment over the past 25 years are not succeeding,” said Walter Boynton of the Chesapeake Biological Laboratory in Solomons.

Let me get this straight. We have known what was killing the Bay for 25 years, but everyone — including Dr. Boynton and Dr. Dennison — has been studying the problem — until even they have grown sick of the sham.

I attended the Maryland Water Monitoring Conference in Baltimore last week just for laughs. There Dr. Boynton and other scientists warned that there would not be more government money for restoration projects because the scientific community isn’t sure we can show that restoration efforts actually improve water quality.

Say what?

This is like Alice in Wonderland, and Wonderland is the Bay Program.

My old friend Howard Ernst, who teaches political science at the Naval Academy and who wrote Chesapeake Bay Blues, captured the madness. “The Bay is not dying because we do not know what is wrong,” he said.

“The Bay is dying a slow death because the current approach to regional environmental management has left the area with nonbinding agreements instead of enforceable laws, goals instead of pollution limits, an environmental bureaucracy that lacks enforcement powers and a severely impaired ecosystem that shows no sign of systemic improvement.”

And, I might add, too many scientists padding their rabbit holes.

© COPYRIGHT 2008 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.