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The Trickledown Effect: How government shutdowns affect Chesapeake Bay health

Emily Bialowas, IWLA Chesapeake Monitoring Outreach Coordinator
marsh Tangier Island_credit Chesapeake Bay Progrogram

With another government shutdown looming at the end of this week, it’s important to reflect on ways the earlier shutdown affected the Chesapeake Bay and water quality throughout the country.

While trash-strewn national parks were the big news stories about impacts on natural resource of the last shutdown, there has been less reporting about impacts that are harder to see straight away, like water quality.

As a partner in the Chesapeake Monitoring Cooperative, the League is committed to contributing water quality data to better understand the health of the Chesapeake watershed as a whole. However, when the government was shutdown, there was radio silence from the Chesapeake Bay Program Office – the folks we are collecting this data for – and new contributors got stuck in an approval backlog.  

How else did the shutdown affect Bay health?

  • The Chesapeake Bay Program coordinates cooperation among 19 federal agencies and almost 40 state agencies to improve Bay health. That office was completely closed during the shutdown, causing restoration and pollution prevention projects to be put in limbo awaiting funding.
  • Federal agencies, including the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), have long-term monitoring programs around the Bay and throughout the watershed. These operations were interrupted for over a month. State agencies and anyone interested in water quality depend on this data to understand what is happening with our water and the Chesapeake – data that was unavailable and may never be captured.
  • Chesapeake Bay states have been working on long-term plans to prevent non-point-source pollution that seriously impacts Bay health. These are technically complicated plans that require close coordination with and guidance from EPA staff. Because of the month-long delay, there could be years of delays in implementing these pollution-prevention programs.

The Chesapeake Bay Program Partnership has been working for years to improve the overall health of the Bay. They can only do so through a constant effort to get on top of understanding the Bay and from providing funding to get partners to act to restore and improve the Chesapeake. We won’t see until next year how the shutdown ultimately affected the health of the Chesapeake Bay.