What's the Best Way to Educate Virginia Senators? The Bay Itself!
One of the best tools for educating government leaders about the Chesapeake Bay is the Bay itself. It's difficult to ignore the ecological and economic importance of the Bay after pulling up a trap full of feisty blue crabs, casting a line for spring stripers, or watching the sun set over a salt marsh.
Virginia Senators Henry Marsh, Emmett Hanger, and Louise Lucas with CBF Staff. Photo by CBF Staff.
Virginia Senators John Watkins, Frank Ruff, Emmett Hanger, and Louise Lucas discuss erosion problems with Tangier residents at the local Fire Department. Photo by CBF Staff.
The group on CBF's workboat the Loni Carol II. Photo by Peggy Sanner/CBF Staff.
The group on the Loni Carol II braved rough seas, much like the local watermen." Photo by CBF Staff.
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That's why the Chesapeake Bay Foundation recently hosted a group of Virginia legislators and government officials on a two-day retreat at CBF's Port Isobel Education Center and Tangier Island. The members of the Senate Finance Committee, their staff, and natural resource agency officials got a hands-on, up-close look at the Chesapeake in one of the Bay's most remote and pristine settings. CBF President Will Baker and I, along with several CBF scientists and educators, served as hosts.
Braving rough seas, much like the local watermen, the group scraped underwater grass beds for blue crabs, set crab pots, and dredged for wild oysters while discussing the impacts of excess nutrients and sediment on these resources and the solutions for reducing pollution. Also on the itinerary were discussions with Tangier Islanders about efforts to address the serious erosion and flooding problems that their small water-dependent community is facing. Tangier serves as a stark illustration for all Hampton Roads communities that are concerned about the impact of sea-level rise.
CBF staff not only ensured that elected officials enjoyed an engaging, inspiring Chesapeake Bay experience, we also made sure they understand the critical importance of fully implementing the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint, the federal-state plan to restore the Bay and its rivers and streams by 2025. Clean water is vital for fish and crabs, but it's also necessary for a healthy economy, quality of life, and the future of our children and grandchildren.
To their credit, the Virginia General Assembly and the administration of Gov. Bob McDonnell have kept Virginia moving forward on Blueprint objectives. Earlier this year, the governor and the legislature added $216 million to the state budget for crucial wastewater treatment plant upgrades, stormwater controls, and other clean water projects. They also boosted oyster replenishment efforts with an additional $2 million.
As important as that funding is, however, state lawmakers cannot rest on their laurels. Virginia and the other Bay states have all pledged further, substantial pollution reductions from wastewater plants, farms, cities, and suburban areas—really from everyone— to stay on track to meet the state's two-year Bay milestone goals, 2017 mid-way targets, and 2025 full-implementation objectives.
It is imperative that elected officials and state leaders keep their eye on the prize—a restored Bay and the environmental, economic, and recreational benefits that will flow from it—and continue to make funding the Bay Blueprint among their top priorities. Virginia must remain an active, committed partner in Bay restoration if citizens are to enjoy the clean water, healthy environment, and robust economy they deserve.
Virginia Executive Director
Chesapeake Bay Foundation