Warmer days, flowering plants all in bloom and student graduations all harken the advent of another summer season. Trips to river retreats and other places along the Chesapeake Bay are well into the planning stage. But as in years past, enjoyment of these aquatic resources by both locals and tourists continues to be restrained by the degraded health of the Bay and its tributaries.
The long and sad history of the Bay’s deterioration and failed promises to right the wrongs, decades in the making, was to see a new day with the long-awaited release of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) pollution diet, known as a Total Daily Maximum Load (TDML). Released in late December in settlement of a lawsuit filed by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF), the EPA is to ensure the TDML will require: detailed restoration plans from watershed states which have some actual expectation of completion and success; and, in a welcome departure from earlier efforts, known consequences for failure.
The plan would affect almost everyone in the Bay’s 64,000-square-mile watershed. It will impact how much fertilizer people put on their lawns and gardens as well as how farmers manage livestock and fertilize crops. In many areas, upgrading sewage treatment plants or stormwater systems will likely require new fees. The expected, though not always welcome or helpful, loud wailing and gnashing of teeth, dire predictions of economic collapse, cries of poverty, and claims of victimization by multiple and various groups came hard on the heels of the TDML release. And continue unabated. But one has to wonder why every imaginable group is now raising such a hue and cry when those responsible — the State’s citizenry and professional politicians — have ducked the issue for so long.
Virginia’s fishing industry did not fall upon hard times beginning in 2010. Fish kills in Virginia’s rivers did not begin in 2010. The discarded debris of human society and its unintended victims washing up on the beaches affected tourism prior to 2010. Despite recent progress towards restoring the Bay and its tributaries to good health through the 2005 Virginia Tributaries Strategy, pollution reduction continues to be an issue.
Having had its revised Phase I Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP) finally accepted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last December, Virginia is now fast approaching the deadline, Summer 2011, to submit its preliminary/draft Phase II WIP, which is expected to be developed with actions proposed at a smaller, local scale. The referenced ‘smaller, local scale’ means nutrient and sediment targets will be set for counties or local watersheds. But unlike the state goals, these targets are not intended to be enforceable, at least not initially. Instead, they are intended to spur more detailed plans showing how goals will be met. Let the restoration work begin at the grass-roots level.
If done properly, it is a proven fact that greening Virginia’s industries can be, and is now, a profitable venture and job creation engine. Based on the CBF report, The Economic Argument for Cleaning up the Bay and its Rivers, respected economists have estimated the value of the Bay at over $1 trillion related to fishing, tourism, property values, and shipping/commerce — the commercial seafood industry in Maryland and Virginia accounts for $2 billion in sales, $1 million in income, and more than 41,000 jobs per year.
Innovative and creative thinking is needed from Virginia’s engineering community to help transition those industries most effected into a new thought process, a new way to do business, and develop the processes which new businesses will need as a greener economy becomes a greater reality.
Will Virginia’s engineers, as citizens and professionals, take up the challenge to be a positive and dynamic force in this transition? The talent and capability are certainly there. But is the will?