The Case for Optimism
by Chris Trumbauer
‘Tis not the season for “doom and gloom”. So often when we speak of the troubles facing the Chesapeake Bay and our rivers, the conversation focuses on past failures, astronomical costs, or who to blame for the condition of our waterways. But during the holidays, who wants to focus on the negative? This is a season of hope, a season of giving, a season for cherishing time with family and friends. So it is fitting that we approach the ongoing effort to restore our waterways with optimism.
Many times, with complex problems, finding the simplest solution can be the best way forward. The challenge of reducing pollution in our waterways is so massive and so daunting that it can seem overwhelming. But it really boils down to a very basic solution: we all have a shared responsibility to help restore the West and Rhode Rivers, and every waterway that flows into the largest and most productive estuary in the nation – the Chesapeake Bay.
I’m reminded of a catchy little song that parents and kids (including mine) sing when it’s time to pick up their mess, or clean their rooms.
“Clean up, clean up, everybody, everywhere
Clean up, clean up, everybody do your share.”
We could all take this to heart. What if, instead of developers blaming farmers, and farmers blaming developers, we all started working together? What if, instead of paying lawyers and lobbyists to figure out why we didn’t have to do something designed to protect our waterways, we all spent that effort trying to figure out what we could do to make things better? What if we all did do our share?
Our rivers are natural ecosystems that thrived for thousands of years. They are resilient. But humankind has been beating them up for a long time. Overfishing, pollution, destruction of wetlands, forests, and shorelines have all contributed to a sharp decline in their health. If we want to give the rivers a chance to heal, we need to make some changes.
That’s where my optimism comes in. For the first time since its inception, the Chesapeake Bay Program has mandatory pollution reductions in place, instead of the failed voluntary measures of the past 30 years. These pollution reduction requirements are based on proven science, and if implemented will finally give the Chesapeake Bay and our waterways a chance to begin their recovery.
Will it be easy? No. Will it be cheap? No. Will it be worth it? Yes. A recent study estimated the value of the Chesapeake Bay at $1 Trillion. This seems surprising until you remember all of the industries dependent on a healthy Bay: fishing, tourism, boating, and shipping – not to mention property values.
Surely there are those that don’t want to make the investment in our #1 resource. Their voices may be loud – but do they speak for you? They don’t speak for me. I’m rooting for the Bay and I think we can win.
At West/Rhode Riverkeeper, we fight every day for our rivers. We advocate at the General Assembly for good, common-sense policies to reduce pollution and hold the state and counties accountable for their goals. We go out into communities to educate our neighbors on simple everyday actions we can all do to reduce pollution. We patrol our rivers to guard against violations of environmental laws. And, increasingly, we are building on-the-ground restoration projects and living shorelines in our communities to restore habitat and capture pollution before it goes into our rivers.
In the words of John F. Kennedy, “We choose to [do these] things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard… because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.” We do these things because we know we can restore our rivers. We want to be part of the great effort to bring our rivers and the Bay back from the brink. And we are optimistic that, finally, we are prepared to do it.