By Donald Boesch
he Chesapeake Bay Foundation is developing a strategy to ensure that the Bay
restoration goals are fully met by the 2025
deadline. It’s being called “A Moment in
Time.” During discussions among CBF
trustees, I made the point that we are not
just facing a moment in time, but what I
believe to be the moment in time, because
I don’t think we will get another chance if
I have spent nearly 30 years as a scientist
doing research on the Chesapeake Bay or
facilitating the research of others. I have
seen science develop and mature to the
point that we know more about the Chesapeake than any comparable coastal ecosystem in the world.
We know why the Bay has become degraded and what we need to do to restore it.
While science is still needed to guide and
monitor the recovery, our diagnosis and
treatment regimen are as solid and reliable
as they come.
But we as a society have repeatedly failed to
complete the required regimen.
In 1987, the Bay states and federal government formally committed to reduce nutrient
pollution by 40 percent by the year 2000 in
order to restore degraded water quality and
the health of the Bay. We failed miserably,
but recommitted to achieve the goal by
2010, guided by some better numbers.
So remorseful were the states and the feds
back in 2000 that they committed that if our
voluntary approaches were not successful by
2010, mandatory requirements under the
Clean Water Act would be forced. Fear of
such tough medicine was meant to spur us
on. While we made some progress, by 2010
we had not gotten much past half the way
on our nutrient-pollution goal.
It’s now time for the tough medicine.
We have entered the mandatory phase in
which the U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency is requiring the states to develop
plans to reduce pollution to Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs), a determined
amount that the Bay can tolerate and
This TMDL goal—not all that different than
the one set for 2010—has been pushed
back 15 years to 2025. Yet, some state and
local governments are acting like this is a
new and arbitrary imposition rather than a
lingering deficiency that must now be
addressed. Agribusiness and development
groups have even gone to court to challenge the whole premise of the TMDL.
Mind you, the new goal date is 38 years
after the states and federal government first
committed to a goal, and 25 years after the
first goal was missed and the parties committed to move to mandatory approaches if
they failed to meet the second goal.
That’s why I think that this is not just a
moment in time, but the only moment our
society will ever have to restore the Bay.
As a scientist, I am trained to rely on
empirical evidence rather than wishful
thinking. There is just no evidence for concluding that we will have another chance
after 2025 given the record of performance
and additional mounting pressures that
will result from population growth and climate change.
A whole generation will have passed during
the struggle for Bay restoration, with most
of the public and those in charge in 2025
with no recollection of a healthy Bay and
previous commitment. They will be more
willing to accept conditions as they are.
It doesn’t have to be that way. We know
what needs to be done and I believe that we
can find effective and more efficient ways to
It starts with taking responsibility for curbing one’s own pollution, whether one is a
farmer, developer, industry, or family. Collective investments through the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund (also known as
the “flush fee”) are beginning to yield enormous benefits, but it will cost more to complete the job.
Sewage sludge and animal wastes can be
recycled to fertilize crops, but this use must
be better managed to achieve that end,
rather just waste disposal on the land. We
need to limit sprawling development with
household wastes drained into pits in the
backyard. And, we need more wetlands
and oysters to clean up the pollution we
It’s that simple, really. We have less than 14
years and we—and only we—can restore
the Chesapeake Bay.
This oped was also published in the February 11,
2012 issue of The Capital newspaper (Annapolis).