Choosing Clean Water

  • Posted by Dawn Merritt

    By Leah Miller.

    The Choose Clean Water Coalition advocates for Chesapeake Bay restoration, and the League has been an active member of coalition since it was formed in 2009. I represented the League at the second annual Choose Clean Water Chesapeake Bay Restoration Conference in Washington, DC, January 10-12. The conference was fabulous – excellent speakers, a lot of passion about cleaning up the Bay and the streams that feed into it, and great networking opportunities.

    A major theme of the conference was the need to talk about Bay restoration in economic terms. People are concerned with jobs and the economy right now, and we need to let people know that saving the Bay also saves and creates jobs. For example, Diane Cameron of  the Audubon Naturalist Society determined that $1.25 billion in investments to treat rain runoff in the Anacostia watershed would help boost employment by 13,600 job years – full time jobs that last one year.

    Fracking Marcellus Shale: I attended a fascinating panel on hydraulic fracturing, the process used to access natural gas deposits beneath Marcellus shale in New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, and Virginia. League members – most actively in New York and Pennsylvania – are passionate about protecting trout streams and drinking water from the toxic chemical mixtures that are used to fracture bedrock and expose natural gas during the horizontal hydraulic fracturing process. In 2010, the League passed a policy resolution urging states to only allow this drilling after putting measures in place to protect water quality. During the conference panel, Jan Jarrett of PennFuture said that one quarter of all land in Pennsylvania is already under lease for drilling, including half of the state forest land. A 2010 rulemaking in Pennsylvania has begun to regulate this drilling practice by requiring treatment of the waste water produced, which has already led many companies to reuse 90-100% of their wastewater. However, there is some concern that the new administration in Pennsylvania may roll back some of these protections. Brent Walls with Potomac RiverKeeper said that one big issue with Marcellus shale gas drilling in the upper Potomac watershed of West Virginia, Virginia and western Maryland is that landowners often don’t own the mineral rights below the land, so even if a property owner opposed drilling on their land, the owner of the mineral rights is the one who decides whether or not to allow drilling. In some state forests, the owner of mineral rights is as yet unknown to the conservation community.

    Cleaning Up: I learned about a unique business-led venture to clean up Baltimore Harbor. Baltimore Harbor is a popular destination for residents and tourists alike. The Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore was formed by owners of businesses fronting the harbor. These business owners were disturbed not only that the harbor was full of trash and often smelly but also because when someone fell into the water, they had to go through a decontamination process to protect them from the high levels of pollution. When most others dismissed the harbor as a hopeless cause, this group of business leaders set an ambitious goal to make Baltimore Harbor fishable and swimmable by 2020. Each business fronting the harbor contributed money to launch the program and later helped pass a new city tax on waterfront businesses to continue the program. Michael Hankin, Chair of the Waterfront Partnership, went as far as to pledge to participate in Baltimore’s first triathlon, which the Waterfront Partnership is planning for 2020.

    Other businesses working to reduce pollution in the Chesapeake Bay watershed were also showcased. The Scotts Company has eliminated phosphorus – a major Bay pollutant – a from it’s Miracle-Gro fertilizer and is working to its use of nitrogen, another key pollutant. Pennsylvania’s EnergyWorks uses manure from chicken and dairy farms to produce electrical power while also reducing nutrient pollution by 1 million pounds a year to the Chesapeake Bay, which represents 3.5 percent of all the reductions EPA requires of the state of Pennsylvania.

    Congressional Speakers: Several members of Congress spoke at the conference, including Elijah Cummings (7th District, MD), Glenn Thompson (5th District, PA), Chris Van Hollen (8th District, MD), and Rob Wittman (1st District, VA). Near the end of the conference, former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Chesapeake Bay “czar” Chuck Fox said that the Bay-wide pollution diet just completed by EPA would not have happened without the support and efforts of grassroots activists like League members and others within the Choose Clean Water Coalition.

    2011 in the Bay: Choose Clean Water Coalition priorities this year include working with Bay states to ensure the pollution diet is implemented effectively on the local level, improving policies to stop polluted runoff in cities, protecting communities from water pollution created by horizontal hydraulic fracturing, and ensuring continued federal investment in Chesapeake Bay restoration and protection.

    The Izaak Walton League will be active on many of these issues, and we’re counting on League members and supporters to help us improve the Chesapeake Bay watershed for everyone’s use.

    -- Leah Miller, IWLA Clean Water Program Director

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