Friday, March 17, 2017

The Chesapeake Bay - Part 5 - Programs

So we know that the Chesapeake Bay needs oysters for its health, and we know that the Bay's salinity is ideal for oysters, but the population in the last fifty years has been devastated.  Maryland used to have  about 200,000 acres of oyster reefs; today the number is about 36,000.  In pre-colonial days, the oysters could filter the entire Bay in about 3 days; and in 1988 the filtration time was 325 days.   The gross value of the oyster harvest dropped 88% from 1982 to 2007.  One report stated that the Bay contained less oysters in 2008 than it did in 1983.  Over-harvesting, pollution, and disease are the known culprits.
   The depletion of the oysters has had a very harmful effect upon the quality of the water in the Bay.  Oysters serve as natural water filters, and the fewer they are, the dirtier the Bay is.  Water that was once clear for several feet is now so turbid that a wader can lose sight of their feet before their knees are wet.
    Efforts of federal, state, and local governments, working in partnership through the Chesapeake Bay Program, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, and other non-profit environmental groups, tp restore water quality have had some good results.  One obstacle to cleaning up the Bay is that much of the polluting substances appear far upstream in tributaries lying in states that are far removed from the Chesapeake itself.  Twenty years ago, the Bay supported over 6,000 oystermen and their families. Today, there are fewer than 500 oystermen.
    Repopulation of the Bay oysters via hatcheries has been carried out by a group called the Oyster Recovery Partnership, with some success.  They recently placed 6 million oysters on 8 acres of the Trent Hall Sanctuary.  And scientists from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science at the College of William & Mary  claim that the experimental reefs they created in 2004 are now home to 180 million native oysters, Crassostrea virginica;  but that is much less than the billions of oysters that once claimed the Bay as "home."
   Earlier this week, it was announced that the 45th Administration planned to cut the Environmental Protection Agency's staff by one-fifth, and eliminate key programs.  The original "leaked" numbers proposed that the White House would reduce annual funding for the EPA's Chesapeake Bay Cleanup project by 93 percent, gutting the program from $73 million down to $5 million for the fiscal year.  The real numbers were released yesterday, and the Bay Cleanup Program will get nothing from the proposed budget.
   The project represents a unique state and federal cleanup plan that began in 2010.  It is working.  The Chesapeake is getting better, and each partner plays a vital role.  The states developed and implemented their own plans to reduce pollution and restore water quality.  The EPA's portion of the cleanup program coordinates the science, research and modeling to implement the blueprint and it makes grants that fund pollution reduction.  Today, pollution is down.  Jobs have been created, human health has been protected, and local economies have been improved.  The Chesapeake Bay's "dead zone" where aquatic life cannot thrive is getting smaller; crabs, oysters and underwater grasses are being to rebound.
   But the Chesapeake Bay is far from saved. Having the budget cut by 93 percent, or more, will reverse all of the progress that has been made.  Bay restoration efforts have a long history of bipartisan support.  Our elected officials have consistently pursued a legacy of clean water.  Let's make sure that they understand that we want to, and need to, preserve and protect the Chesapeake Bay!
     Write to the President, the Vice President, to the EPA, and to each and every one of your Congressional representatives.  Without clean water everything dies.

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