Nearly 40 years after Congress passed the Clean Water Act (CWA), the Chesapeake Bay—the crown jewel of Maryland’s natural resource heritage—remains degraded. Chemical contaminants, sediment, and nutrients—specifically, phosphorus and nitrogen—impair the Bay’s water quality.
The impacts of this pollution are clear and present: The Bay’s oyster population has been devastated, down to 2 percent of its average levels in the 1950s, and its famous blue crab harvest dropped by more than half between 1990 and 2006. “Dead zones” in the Bay simply contain too little oxygen to support aquatic life.
The Bay is not only a home for aquatic life, but for recreation, and it is an economic driver for the region. In one study, economists pegged the value of recreational boating activity on the Bay at $2 billion a year. A University of Maryland study two decades ago estimated the total value of the Bay at $678 billion—more than a trillion in today’s dollars.
The need to restore the Bay is clear; the how is harder—but it can be done. New laws, greener development practices, more resources for restoration, increased personal commitment—the list goes on and on. But much could be done right now under the Clean Water Act, if it were aggressively enforced. Currently, it is not.
In late 2009, The Abell Foundation commissioned the Center for Progressive Reform (CPR), a network of legal scholars focusing on regulatory and environmental law, to examine CWA enforcement in Maryland today and recommend fixes.