Commentary by U.S. Senator Benjamin L. Cardin
For decades people have talked about cleaning up one of America's most cherished and celebrated bodies of water - the Chesapeake Bay. On October 21, I introduced the Chesapeake Clean Water and Ecosystem Restoration Act, S. 1816, landmark legislation that will back up that talk with tough, new requirements and a major new federal investment in a clean bay.
Today, 17 million people live in its watershed, which encompasses seven jurisdictions - Maryland, Virginia, the District of Columbia, Pennsylvania, Delaware, West Virginia and New York. The Bay's tributaries—the Susquehanna, Severn and James rivers—are home to three state capitals, and the nation's capital is nestled between two others, the Potomac and Anacostia.
While the Bay has been called a "national treasure" by American presidents ranging from Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama, it's a watershed that is in serious trouble. By every scientific measure, the ecological health of the Chesapeake is poor. The Bay and its tributaries have been harmed from too much urban and suburban development, too many impervious surfaces and too much runoff from farm lands. At the same time, we also have experienced an astounding loss of 100 acres of forest lands every day in the watershed. All of this has led to excess nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment pouring into the Bay in recent decades.
I am determined to restore the Chesapeake Bay for future generations. I am leading that effort in Congress and that's why I recently introduced S. 1816 to make that a reality. My bill would give states strong, new tools to clean up the Bay's watershed, and, for the first time, sets a firm deadline of 2025 for all restoration efforts to be in place. It also would authorize nearly $2 billion, including a new $1.5 billion grants program to control urban/suburban polluted stormwater, a serious contributor to pollution in the Bay and one that has only gotten worse over time.
To help farmers implement new conservation practices, my bill would ensure that at least 20 percent of the states' implementation grants would be devoted to helping farmers and foresters reduce farm runoff and help reforest the watershed. Finally, my measure would codify President Obama's Chesapeake Bay Executive Order, which was issued in September and requires federal action plans across all federal departments to restore the Bay.
We can restore the Bay to health, but only if we establish a comprehensive plan that is based on a strong federal, state, local and community partnership - a partnership that has the tools and resources to get the job done. This is our legacy to future generations and it is a legacy that I believe people who live in the Bay's watershed want and support. It is time for us to join together and return the Bay to its former glory - a pristine natural resource that can sustain the ecosystem we all treasure.