Dundalk neighborhoods sit directly across Bear Creek from the Sparrows Point steel mill. Toxic pollution has been found in the creek's sediment and residents can't recall the last time anyone swam in the creek.  ©2008 Nikki DavisIn Maryland, Dundalk neighborhoods sit directly across Bear Creek from the Sparrows Point steel mill. Toxic pollution has been found in the creek's sediment and residents can't recall the last time anyone swam in the creek. ©2008 Nikki Davis

A Toxic Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement

The draft of a new Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement was released January 29, 2014 by the Chesapeake Bay Program. What the draft contains is commendable. But what it is missing is shocking: any commitment to reduce or eliminate toxics in the Bay or its watershed.

For 20 years the states involved in cleaning up the Bay have been committed to a toxics-free Chesapeake. Suddenly, in 2014, the Chesapeake Bay Program is proposing that that commitment be dropped. This is a travesty.

The Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, when finalized, will set the goals for Bay restoration actions for perhaps the next decade. The six major Bay states and the District of Columbia will be asked to commit to these goals and actions.

Much of the Agreement is to be applauded. For instance, it would re-affirm the commitment by the six Bay states and the District of Columbia to implement the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. The Blueprint deals specifically with reducing nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment to the Bay and its tributaries. The Blueprint is a milestone in the history of the Bay restoration effort because it holds the states accountable for success in reducing these pollutants. Nutrients and sediment are largely responsible for the summer "dead zones" of low oxygen in the Bay, for closed beaches, reduced populations of Bay aquatic animals and underwater grasses, and many other problems.

But past Agreements have traditionally addressed a wider set of goals than pollution reduction. The Bay is a vast and complex ecosystem; the current draft Agreement does set goals to protect and restore habitat and fisheries, to increase public access to the Bay, and to improve and expand environmental education in the region.

Traditionally, reducing toxics also has been a commitment. CBF has insisted as much. And the Chesapeake Bay Program readily acknowledges toxic contaminants are a major problem in the Bay:

"Almost three-quarters of the Chesapeake Bay's tidal waters are considered impaired by chemical contaminants. These contaminants include pesticides, pharmaceuticals, metals and more, and can harm the health of both humans and wildlife," reads the Chesapeake Bay Program website. (Find out more about toxic contaminants and the Bay.)
In recent years, scientists have been studying the possible role of toxics in intersex fish found in portions of the Potomac River watershed, and other and Bay tributaries: fish abnormally displaying both male and female characteristics. Toxics can also threaten human health. Catfish routinely caught and eaten by low-income fishermen along the Anacostia River have been found to be riddled with contaminants.

In 1994, at an Executive Council meeting of the Chesapeake Bay Program at Jefferson Patterson Park, on the Patuxent River in Calvert County, then Virginia Governor George Allen tried to eliminate the toxic reduction commitment. Carol M. Browner, then Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, reportedly argued with Allen behind closed doors, finally prevailing. The commitment to reduce toxics remained intact.

That commitment was re-affirmed in 2000 by the Bay states, specifically to update the existing toxics strategy, including fulfilling "the 1994 goal of a Chesapeake Bay free of toxics by reducing or eliminating the input of chemical contaminants from all controllable sources to levels that result in no toxic or bioaccumulative impact on the living resources that inhabit the Bay or on human health."

Yet now, the latest Agreement in the three decades of Bay recovery, would lack that commitment. The same EPA that fought for keeping the commitment in place in 1994 apparently is now willing to drop it.

Almost as shocking, the latest draft Agreement does not acknowledge the single largest environmental issue of the present time: climate change.

CBF will not accept these deficiencies in the draft. The Chesapeake Bay Program is accepting public comment on the draft Agreement (available on the Chesapeake Bay Program website) till March 17. You can be sure we will make our position known.

We hope you will make your position known as well. You can submit comments between now and March 17 in three ways:

  • Submitting an online comment at www.chesapeakebay.net/watershedagreement
  • Submitting an e-mail to agreement@chesapeakebay.net
  • Submitting an in-person comment at the March 13 meeting of the Chesapeake Bay Program Management Board, which will be held from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the Program's Joe Macknis Memorial Conference Room (Fish Shack), 410 Severn Avenue, Annapolis.


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