The Chesapeake Bay is one of our region’s greatest treasures, providing unsurpassed opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts, a bountiful resource for both commercial and recreational fishermen and worth an estimated $1 trillion in economic activity. The Bay is the largest of more than 100 estuaries in the United States. Home to more than 17 million people, its 64,000-square-mile watershed includes parts of six states – Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia – and the entire District of Columbia.
Unfortunately, years of rapid growth along its banks and tributaries have threatened the health of the Bay.
The EPA, in partnership with the six states and D.C., have undertaken a years-long effort to clean up the Chesapeake Bay, aiming to dramatically reduce nutrient and sediment runoff by 2025. These restoration efforts have already shown improvements, as seen in the blue crab population. The population declined severely in early 2000’s, but regulatory actions in 2008 helped boost the population above its 2010 goal of 213 million blue crabs.
Though we have seen progress, the health of the Bay’s ecosystem is still very poor and there is a great deal of work to do. To build upon the EPA’s commitment, the agency has established two grant programs, the Small Watershed Grants Program and the Innovative Watershed Restoration and Nutrient and Sediment Reduction, to help find the most effective and efficient ways to improve the condition of local watersheds and reduce pollution and sediment runoff.
Last week I was honored to join representatives from the EPA, National Fish and Wildlife Federation and local non-profit groups to announce more than $9.2 million dollars in grant funding for projects to clean up the Bay. The 41 grants will be matched with an additional $13.5 million in other funds and in-kind support from local project partners to have an overall impact of more than $22 million dollars on the ground.
Several of these grants will go to programs in Northern Virginia. The Potomac Conservancy will use funding to do a study on ways to promote low impact development along the watershed and explore ways to engage agricultural land owners in conservation programs. Another grant awarded last week will go to reducing storm water runoff in Arlington Country.
Collectively the 41 grants will:
• Restore 176 miles of streamside forest
• Restore 158 acres of wetlands
• Restore 10 acres of oyster reef
• Open up 13 miles of stream for fish habitat
• Install 50 miles of fencing that keeps livestock out of streams
• Implement conservation practices on over 2,800 acres of farmland
• Treat storm water runoff from 65 acres of city streets, parking lots, roofs and yards
• Reach out to over 180,000 landowners about how to reduce polluted runoff from their lands; and
• Engage 9,000 volunteers in on-the-ground restoration projects
The milestone for meeting specific Bay-wide nutrient and sediment reductions is approaching. I hope the new projects will produce innovative and cost effective solutions to restore the Chesapeake Bay and retain the quality of life that surrounds this and other great natural settings.
Rep. James Moran (D) is Virginia’s 8th Congressional District Representative in the U.S. House of Representatives.