It's Time to Finish Cleaning up Chesapeake Bay

Early Morning Heron-Lynn Gaffey-1171x593

Lynn Gaffey

Last month marks 50 years since the Clean Water Act was enacted and at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation we're using the landmark law to urge leaders in the watershed to finish the Bay cleanup.

We've seen some of the recent hyperbole—that Bay restoration is at its lowest point, that leaders are congratulating themselves at the same time the cleanup seems to be imploding.

While the situation isn't that bad, we share the frustration with others who are affected by stagnating progress on the cleanup.

We're dismayed that each major state in the watershed has failed to address agricultural and stormwater pollution. We've urged the states to invest in natural solutions in cities and towns—street trees, rain gardens, green roofs, and landscaping—to slow stormwater runoff down and filter out pollutants. On farms, we're encouraging farmers to plant cover crops over the winter, use rotational grazing, and fence livestock out of fields. In some states, progress has been made on these fronts, but not fast enough.

With the 2025 cleanup deadline looming, watershed states still need to reduce nitrogen pollution by about 40 million pounds per year, after only achieving 30 million pounds of nitrogen reductions from 2009 to 2021.

In response to the lagging progress, the foundation took action. We sued the Environmental Protection Agency in September 2020 to require Pennsylvania to develop, fund, and implement a plan that will meet the state's pollution reduction obligations. Pennsylvania still needs to reduce nitrogen pollution by about 30 million pounds per year—by far the largest amount of any watershed jurisdiction.

After state governors gathered recently for the annual Chesapeake Executive Council meeting, where the partnership's cleanup failures were glossed over, we urged the leaders to recommit to meeting the restoration goals and re-evaluate their progress so far.

In Pennsylvania, we helped to put in place the state's first major agricultural assistance program this year that will direct $154 million for agricultural conservation improvements to reduce runoff and build healthy soils.

In Maryland, a new law we advocated for will strengthen Maryland Department of the Environment's enforcement program to ensure factories and other facilities that are permitted to pollute are complying with permit limits. Together, as a member of the Chesapeake Accountability Project, we've urged Maryland leaders to reverse the state's long-term decline in environmental enforcement activities to bolster cleanup efforts.

These types of long-term policy changes will have benefits down the road. But we've also been working locally on issues that have immediate impacts. In just the past three months, CBF secured a landmark court ruling that allows citizens and other organizations to more easily challenge construction projects that may violate Maryland's Forest Conservation Act. By partnering with community residents, we halted tree clearing at a construction site in Abingdon where a developer is trying to clear more than 300 acres of established forest—the largest proposed forest clearing happening in the state. And on the Eastern Shore, we worked closely with ShoreRivers and concerned scientists to successfully advocate against a Norwegian company's plan to dump 2.3 million gallons of wastewater per day into a bay tributary for a proposed salmon production factory.

While we have been frustrated by a lack of accountability at the overall watershed level, we've participated in successful partnerships with environmental organizations and community advocates to make progress toward a restored bay.

Before the Clean Water Act was in place in 1972, litter, chemical pollution, and sediment-choked streams rendered many of our local waterways dangerous. Today, the pollution isn't as visible and our waterways are healthier, but increasing development, rapid population growth, and climate change are adding new pollution sources to the bay. As we and others who fight for clean water rise to address these challenges, we urge federal and watershed jurisdiction leaders to honor their legal and moral obligations to reduce pollution to the bay.

Josh Kurtz 90x110

Josh Kurtz

Former Executive Director, Maryland Office, CBF

Issues in this Post

Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint   Advocacy  


The views and opinions expressed in the media or articles on this site are those of the speakers or authors and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions held by CBF and the inclusion of such information does not imply endorsement by CBF. CBF is not responsible for the contents of any linked Website, or any link contained in a linked Website, or any changes or updates to such Websites. The inclusion of any link is provided only for information purposes.

The Bay Needs You

The State of the Bay Report makes it clear that the Bay needs our support now more than ever. Your donation helps the Chesapeake Bay Foundation maintain our momentum toward a restored Bay, rivers, and streams for today and generations to come.

Donate Today

Stay Up-to-Date on Bay News

Want to stay up-to-date on all news and happenings in your region and across the Chesapeake watershed? Join our digital community.

Sign Up
This website uses cookies to tailor and enhance your online experience. By continuing, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. For more information, including details on how to disable cookies, please visit our Privacy Policy. Close