In 1984, President Ronald Reagan declared
that it was time to “begin the long,
necessary effort to clean up a productive
recreational area and special national
resource—the Chesapeake Bay.” He was right to
recognize the Chesapeake’s national importance in
his State of the Union address. The Bay’s watershed
comprises 64,000 square miles in the heart of the
mid-Atlantic region. Washington, D.C., lies in the
very center. The Chesapeake is the United States’
largest estuary and the third largest in the world.
The Bay’s productivity has been legendary.
As recently as 40 years ago, and long after
Captain John Smith sailed up theBay in 1607,
the Chesapeake was producing one-quarter of
the nation’s succulent oysters and half of its blue crabs. Nine out of ten rockfish (a.k.a. striped bass)
caught from Maine to North Carolina were born
in the Chesapeake. In 1989, the (then)
WHY IT MATTERS
Chesapeake Bay is North America’s
largest estuary (an area where fresh and
salt water mix) and the world’s third largest.
• The watershed covers 64,000 square miles
and is home to about 17 million people.
• 2007 saw one of the worst crab harvest
levels in 50 years, and the oysters are all
but gone: less than five percent of historic
population levels remain.
• The Bay watershed supports more 3,600
species of plant and animal life, including
about 350 species of fish.
• Thousands of watermen have been forced
out of business due to depleted fisheries.
• After a one inch rain, health departments close
beaches to swimming due to polluted runoff.
Department of Economic and Employment
Developmentestimated the economic value
of the Chesapeake to Maryland and Virginia at
$678 billion. Rebecca Hanmer, former director
of the EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Program Office,
noted in the Bay Journal (October 2004) that
inflation alone marks the Bay as at least a trillion
dollar resource today.
Nearly 17 million people—a number growing
by almost 200,000 each year—live within the
Chesapeake’s watershed. The cumulative impact
of this migration has been severe degradation
of a national treasure. We have uprooted forests
and farmland to make way
for sprawling development.
We have dumped partially
treated sewage, as well as
the fertilizer, waste, and soil
that runs off yards and fields,
into the rivers that are the
lifeblood of the Bay. We have demanded more
energy from power plants that spew poisons into
the air, our waters, and our lungs. Many farming
techniques deliver overloads of nitrogen and
phosphorus pollution to the Bay. We have all but
decimated nature’s own filter system—the Bay’s
network of forests, wetlands, underwater grasses,
and oysters. As a result, the Chesapeake Bay is
in critical condition. The U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA) includes the Bay, and
the tidal portions of many of the rivers that feed
it, on its notorious “dirty waters” list.
To track its condition, the Chesapeake Bay
Foundation (CBF) issues an annual report
assessing the state of the Bay. Using the best
available science,CBF measures current data
against the healthiest Chesapeake we can
describe—the Bay Captain John Smith depicted
in his narratives, a theoretical “100” on a 100
point scale. In 1983, the Bay’s nadir, it would
have scored a 23, indicating a condition only 23
percent of 1607 levels
. In 2007, the Bay scored
a 28, one point lower than in 2006, a grade of D.
The Chesapeake Bay Program (the federal/state
partnership directing Bay restoration since 1983)
and the University of Maryland have conducted
similar assessments with similar grades.
We are determined to make the Bay a model
of success, not failure, and we believe that the
multi-state/federal effort to save the Bay will be
a model for other complex ecological systems
worldwide. Fortunately, critical elements of
long-term success are starting to fall into place.
The world’s best estuarine scientists work here.
They have clearly defined the reasons for the Bay’s decline and the steps necessary to restore
it. We know what the problems are, what
pollutants come from which regions and in
what concentrations. We know that nitrogen
and phosphorus pollution are responsible for the
Bay and rivers’ systemic decline. And we know
the primary sources: inadequately treated sewage,
polluted runoff from urban and agricultural lands,
and even emissions to the air.
Science tells us what the Bay can tolerate,
and provides a “roadmap:” we know the
specific strategies that will reduce pollution
and restore the natural filters. In addition, the
vast majority of voters in the area believe the
Bay can be saved, want their governments to
invest in pollution reduction, and are willing
to ‘foot the bill’ for a saved Chesapeake Bay.
Finally, we thought we had the commitment
needed to “Save the Bay.” The governors of
Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia, the
Administrator of the EPA, the mayor of the
District of Columbia, and the chairman of
the Chesapeake Bay Commission signed an
agreement in 2000 to reduce pollution enough