Fundamentally flawed

August 18, 2004

PEOPLE WHO spend a lot of time in and around the Chesapeake Bay gauge the success of restoration efforts by the white bathing suit test: Does the suit stay white after it's been in the water?

That may not be a scientific measure of the level of pollutants, such as phosphorus and nitrogen, but it clearly indicates whether conditions are getting better or worse. Which may be more than the complicated computer modeling of the federal-state partnership, charged with managing the bay cleanup, is able to do.

Using calculations and projections, the Chesapeake Bay Program boasts that phosphorus pollution has dropped by 28 percent since 1985, while nitrogen pollution declined by 18 percent. Nowhere near enough, but solid progress.

But when the water was actually tested recently by the U.S. Geological Survey at the request of the Washington Post, pollution levels had hardly changed at all.

At the urging of Maryland and Virginia lawmakers, the Government Accountability Office - the federal watchdog agency known until recently as the General Accounting Office - is investigating whether the discrepancies arise from faulty methods or deliberately inflated achievements. It might even figure out what the bay's true condition is.

The GAO could make an even greater contribution, though, if it recommended a better cleanup management plan than one that has no power to enforce pollution reduction goals and holds no individual or agency responsible for lack of progress.

We already know from the crabs, the oysters and the dead zone, as well as the not-so-white bathing suits, that the bay isn't getting better. What we really need is an effective plan for how to fix it - and a genuine commitment from politicians and citizens alike to carry it out.

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.