Report cards can be ominous. Students await results with fear and anxiety. Parents too are eager to determine if their children have performed well or not so; children either face approval or disappointment from their parents.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s (CBF) D+ grade on the health of the Bay, though not surprising, was truly discomforting. Millions and millions of taxpayer dollars and an equal number of words voiced by politicians and advocacy groups have been expended for at least 50 years on behalf of what many consider the beating heart of Maryland.
To what avail? A D+ is hardly encouraging. In fact, it prompts little motivation to devote constant attention to a critically important but impaired estuary, at least initially to me. Some might disagree; the need for further investment of public dollars and political will is more urgent than ever.
Pollution continues unabated. CBF holds farmers and real estate developers to blame. Perhaps justifiably.
Water quality continues on life support. Wastewater plants certainly reduce point-to-point pollution. However, stormwater runoff from residential and commercial development and farm operations contribute to the infusion of detrimental phosphorous and nitrogen.
Multiple programs and agreements between Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia produce photo opportunities and little else. Frustrated too, CBF deliberately offers an abysmally low grade to attract attention to the health of a chronically ill victim. I wonder if the grade will have any impact.
Throw in global warming and sea level rise, and optimism seems a scarce commodity. My pessimism sprung upwards after the revolting report card. While I applauded CBF for its shock therapy, I found myself resigned to the inevitable degradation of the Chesapeake Bay.
Perhaps CBF deliberately released its report prior to the beginning of the Maryland General Assembly and the inauguration tomorrow of Wes Moore as governor. Throughout his primary and general election campaigns, Moore touted his pro-environment viewpoints. Now he must invest in solutions to the Bay’s poor health. He will have little time to rest on his elective mandate.
Solutions such as environmental goals, constant pressure on farmers and developers and fisheries moratoriums work and then taper off. The cancer metastasizes Treatments begin anew. The regimen goes on and on.
Residents of the Chesapeake Bay region cannot give up hope despite the flow of bad news. The Bay governs our lives. It is an invaluable asset, a tarnished gem. Unless we move to Nebraska, we must pay heed to a body of water that produces food, recreation, commerce and beauty.
Neglect is not an option.
We must follow the science and continue to monitor sources of disabling pollution. While farmers bear the brunt of criticism from assertive environmental groups, sometimes undeservedly so, I recommend enforcement of observable pollution. Further, if development cannot be deterred by incessant conservation in the face of equally relentless development, then counties must impose stricter regulations, however distasteful they might seem.
Political opposition will always be fierce. Moratoriums on the harvesting of endangered fish must occur despite pushback by watermen.
Fifteen years ago, at a science forum conducted by the Horn Point Marine Science Lab in Cambridge, Md., a scientist, when asked what one thing he would like to achieve if he could wave a magic wand, he unhesitantly answered: eliminate the use of fertilizer. Phosphorous and nitrogen would vanish from beautifully manicured lawns. Weeds would replace perfection.
The Department of Natural Resources Police must patrol over-fishing and shameful littering. There’s no question that recreational and commercial boaters deserve to enjoy the rich Bay. They also must adhere to protective rules.
I am unhappy about the CBF report card. The D+ grade offers a vision of doom and gloom. If it propels a new round of constructive action to resuscitate the Chesapeake Bay, then the next report card may bring at least a C or C+. Not entirely satisfying, but better.
Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. After 44 years in Easton, Howard and his wife, Liz, moved in November 2020 to Annapolis, where they live with Toby, a King Charles Cavalier Spaniel who has no regal bearing, just a mellow, enticing disposition.