The Mind of the Chesapeake

June 28, 1994

Public support for continued cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay was underlined in a recent survey of residents by the University of Maryland Survey Research Center. Ninety percent of the 2,000 people interviewed support current efforts, and 60 percent of them want even more aggressive action.

Trouble is, the respondents (as the pollsters dub them) weren't asked if they'd be willing to pay more money for the campaign. And they placed the major blame for pollution on historic polluters, rather than on the primary sources of today's more complicated pollution problems in the Chesapeake.

Industry, oil spills and recreational boating were named as the top three causes of pollution. Visible as these sources are, environmental experts say their real causes of concern are less obvious but more insidious: farming and sewage that threaten to overload the Chespeake with chemical nutrients that feed explosions of algae that overwhelm desirable vegetation and aquatic life.

Population growth and individual actions ranked in the upper half of causes, indicating that personal responsibility is still on the minds of those who depend on this unique ecosystem. This sampling of public opinion suggests that the region's heart is in the right place, even if its relative perceptions may be out of place.

That commitment will be necessary as Maryland and the other Chesapeake jurisdictions are completing the "tributary strategies" that will entail hard, specific cleanup actions on the 10 major river systems that feed into the estuary. The will to contribute is about to be tested as Maryland investigates ways to tap the public for some $100 million a year more for bay restoration work than will be available from government budgets.

We should recognize, however, that it is not some remote factory or oil tanker that is the primary cause of bay pollution today. Attention must focus on better sewage treatment and on nonpoint sources of pollution (which include runoff from streets and lawns, as well as from farms).

By 2000, the tributaries plan aims to eliminate 83 million pounds of nitrogen and phosphorus nutrients that now flow into and despoil the bay each year. That means a 40 percent reduction in pollutants for each river basin, an ambitious goal. If that goal is to be reached by deadline, however, actions must spring from the reality that individual responsibility plays an essential role.

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