'Bay Challenge' tests resolve, environmentally

September 17, 1994|By Tim Wheeler | Tim Wheeler,Sun Staff Writer

"The Great Chesapeake Bay Challenge" sounds like the hokey title for a new TV game show. Fortunately, it is something else entirely -- a compelling documentary on what ails the bay and the dilemma we face if we want to "save" it.

From its opening scene of waterman Gladdy Tyler hauling in nearly empty crab pots, the hour-long WMAR special sweeps from one end of the bay to another, showing that the fate of the nation's largest and richest estuary is tied inextricably to how 15 million people live, work and play in a 64,000-square mile area that stretches across six states.

Little Leaguers playing ball in Williamsport, Pa., don't realize that the creek running by their ballfield winds up in the bay nearly 200 miles away. Nor does the salesman in suburban Perry Hall think much about his impact on the Chesapeake as he mows his expansive lawn or drives 1,000 miles a week.

"The Chesapeake Bay is a lot like threatened environments all over the planet," says Scott Broom, WMAR's environmental reporter, during the program, which airs at 8 tonight on Channel 2. "Nobody's really trying to trash it . . ."

The biggest threat to the bay isn't from oil spills or toxic chemicals, but from too much of a good thing, as this special demonstrates. Nutrients, the nitrogen and phosphorus that make plants grow, also make algae grow in the bay, clouding the water and ultimately consuming the oxygen that fish need to live.

Although most people would accuse industry of despoiling the Chesapeake, Mr. Broom points out there is plenty of blame to go around.

Farms, not factories, are the leading source of the nutrients that are choking the life out of the bay. "Challenge" vividly shows why, with shots of cow manure being spread ankle-deep on fields, and of nutrient-rich soil washing off recently plowed cropland.

Lawn chemicals, muddy runoff from development and fallout from air pollution generated by our cars, trucks and power plants also add to the fouling of the water.

All is not bleak. The bay is a bit healthier than it was a decade ago, thanks mainly to hundreds of millions spent by government to clean up the sewage we all flush away.

Farmers are beginning to clean up, too, but that is not cheap either. The Pennsylvania grower profiled in the show says it cost $70,000 to keep his herd's manure from washing into the nearby stream. The government -- meaning we taxpayers -- paid for most of that as well.

Money aside, many people have answered the call to help "save the bay," like the youths shown working to clear harmful reeds on Hart-Miller Island off Baltimore. But can the voluntary efforts offset the damage done by another 2.6 million people expected to settle around the bay in the next 25 years?

The root problem, the show points out, is the accelerating loss of forest, pastureland and wetlands to houses and shopping centers. Development is gobbling up land faster than ever, increasing sewage, muddy runoff, traffic and air pollution.

"Everybody wants the American dream," says the Perry Hall salesman, Rick Ripple. "It's working out for me."

That is the bay challenge: To redefine the American dream as more than just a big house in the country, but also a place where you can still catch a few fish and enjoy the solitude of a quiet cove.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.