The following first appeared in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Many thanks to the Richmond Times-Dispatch for its recent article about a new Chesapeake Bay Foundation report titled "The Economic Benefits of Cleaning Up the Chesapeake Bay." This first-of-its-kind report puts to rest the age-old debate of the environment versus the economy.
The analysis by our experts clearly demonstrates that the environment and the economy are two sides of the same coin. You cannot have one without the other.
Saving the bay is about more than ensuring seafood abundance. It's about achieving a high quality of life across Virginia and the bay's 64,000-square-mile watershed. And to do so, we must have clean air, clean water and healthy land.
Yes, restoring our air, water and lands will be not be easy, but the benefits to society are huge. They include environmental benefits, human health benefits and economic benefits, all of which are interwoven like the threads of a tapestry.
The CBF report, produced by natural resource economist Dr. Spencer Phillips and CBF Senior Scientist Dr. Beth McGee, is a serious, credible, peer-reviewed study that documents the bay's contributions to our regional economy. The authors followed standard economic protocols. Their methodology was not unique; in fact, many similar economic analyses have been published across the country and the world. But again, this is the first of its kind for the Chesapeake Bay.
The report found that in 2009, the year before the regional Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint plan to restore the bay began implementation, the value of the bay's natural benefits, even in their degraded state, was conservatively estimated at $107 billion annually.
The report then calculated the additional benefits a fully restored bay would bring to the region. Those are estimated to be nearly $130 billion, a 21 percent increase. In other words, the Clean Water Blueprint will increase benefits to the bay region by $22.5 billion a year. That's billion with a "b."
What are those benefits? They include cleaner air and water, greater agriculture and seafood production, higher property values, natural flood and storm protection and enhanced recreation, to name a few.
In Virginia, the report estimated a restored bay would return nearly $50 billion in benefits to the commonwealth, or an additional $8.3 billion a year, the most of any of the bay states. For example:
- Aesthetics -- the role that healthy natural areas play in attracting people to live, work and recreate in Virginia -- would increase in value by $3.6 billion annually.
- Waste treatment -- the removal or breakdown of pollution by vegetation, microbes, and other organisms -- will result in fewer, less toxic, lower volumes of pollutants in the system. The report estimates an increase in value of $2.1 billion annually.
- Water supply, filtering, retention, storage and delivery of fresh water -- both quality and quantity -- for drinking, irrigation, industrial processes and other uses showed an increased value of $1.1 billion annually.
Clean rivers and streams and a healthy bay just make sense for the environment and public health, and as our report makes clear, for the economy. And the report underscores the significance of past investments by the General Assembly and the importance of Gov. Terry McAuliffe's "all in" approach to the blueprint and the new Chesapeake Bay Agreement. It is imperative that Virginia keep up the momentum and pursue full implementation of the blueprint's clean water strategies.
Unfortunately, there are insufficient funds in next year's budget to achieve Virginia's cleanup goals. While CBF recognizes current budget uncertainties, investing in a restored bay is clearly an investment in a more prosperous Virginia.
Therefore, CBF urges McAuliffe and the General Assembly to include adequate funding in the 2016 fiscal year state budget to help farmers and localities reduce polluted runoff. Runoff from farms, streets, parking lots and lawns continues to be among the most serious pollution fouling local streams, rivers and the Bay. Farmers need cost-share and technical assistance to implement soil-saving, pollution-reducing conservation practices, and localities need grant funds to better manage urban and suburban runoff.
As our report shows, these investments in water quality will not only boost efforts to build a new Virginia economy, they will pay dividends -- $8.3 billion every year -- to future generations.
--Ann Jennings, CBF's Virginia Executive Director