Restoring the bay on a budget

May 14, 2011

The Chesapeake Bay is 200 miles long and 35 miles wide at its widest point. It's the nation's largest estuary, and 17 million people live within its 64,000 square mile watershed, which includes six states and the District of Colombia. But unfortunately, over time the bay's ecosystem has deteriorated because of excess nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment entering the water as a consequence of human practices.

In December 2010, the EPA issued its final Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Limits — a historic and comprehensive "pollution diet" for the bay and its tributaries. It sets overall yearly limits on pollution from nitrogen, phosphorus and sediments by 2025. If all goes as planned, Chesapeake Bay water quality will be completely restored by then.

The question is whether that's possible given the fiscal challenges America faces over coming decades. Money matters here because effective pollution control is very expensive. Most cost estimates range between $2 billion to $3 billion per year. Maryland has put its share of the cost of compliance at around $10 billion overall over the next 15 years.

Simply put, policies that cannot be afforded will not be afforded. The challenge will be to find ways to restore the bay and still live within our budget.

Larry Smith, Timonium

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