As weather worsens, we must double down on Chesapeake Bay protection
By Dana Stein
Aug 14, 2018 at 8:50 AM
Scientists monitor fish in the Chesapeake Bay as an indicator of water quality.
There’s an old saying about the weather: What would we talk about without it?
These days, there's no shortage of weather-related topics to discuss. Western states have grappled with fierce wildfires, including one that has killed eight people in California and another that closed Yosemite National Park. Several countries in Europe also have battled wildfires, from Greece to Sweden and Latvia.
In the eastern U.S., we have faced threats from another element of nature — water. The month that just ended was the wettest July in Baltimore's history. As The Sun reports, several other rainfall records were also set.
Fortunately, the resulting flooding in Maryland caused no loss of life — this time. Japan, sadly, hasn't fared as well: Torrential rains and mudslides killed more than 200 people this summer.
After record July rainfall filled Chesapeake Bay waterways with trash and debris, Comptroller Peter Franchot said Maryland was "literally drowning in Pennsylvania’s trash." It's impossible to quantify how much of the detritus actually came down the Susquehanna River, but it was likely a lot.
There is almost no doubt that climate change is making normal weather events worse. Unusually hot temperatures — including ones that are continuing to smash records around the world — have made dry areas in western states more susceptible to wildfires. Hotter temperatures have also increased the amount of moisture in the atmosphere, turning downpours into deluges. As the Sacramento Bee stated about the Carr wildfire, "This is climate change, for real and in real time."
In Maryland, one threat posed by climate change is rising sea levels. Our extensive coastline makes low-lying areas vulnerable to the encroachment of higher sea levels and greater storm surges. Fortunately, thanks to legislation that Sen. Paul Pinsky and I sponsored this year, and the governor signed, Maryland will be better prepared for the impact of sea level rise in the future. The bill requires: the state's Coast Smart Council to design standards for state-funded buildings and roads so that they can withstand storm surges; state agencies to help prepare low-lying areas for the impact of saltwater pollution from sea level rise; and areas that are subject to regular flooding to design policies to address such flooding.
Another threat posed by climate change is to the health of the Chesapeake Bay. There has been good news about the condition of the bay recently: We’re on track to meet goals for reduced phosphorus and sediment pollution, though we're behind in meeting bay goals for mitigating pollution from nitrogen.
But late July's storms and flooding caused 45 million gallons of sewage mixed with storm water to flow into the city's waterways and into the harbor. To state the obvious: This hurts the health of the bay in addition to the city's streams and harbor. There is also concern about increased pollution from the Susquehanna River as the Conowingo Dam is forced to let more water flow downstream.
I hope these events will not significantly undercut our recent successes in cleaning up the bay. But given the inevitability of more storms and flooding as climate change gets more powerful, one thing is clear: Maryland and the federal government cannot relent from our commitment to programs that have yielded strong results in our fight against Chesapeake Bay pollution. These programs are essential to the bay's ecosystem, the livelihood of watermen and everyone who enjoys the beauty of the bay.