Calling for Clean Water in the Chesapeake Bay: 2013 Offers Chance for Local Government to Improve Water

Emily Harris
Staff Columnist

With the start of President Barack Obama’s second term comes an opportunity to address countless issues that were not heavily emphasized over the past four years. Discussions regarding healthcare and the economy were very prominent, and these became the defining issues of President Obama’s first term. Environmental issues as a whole were rarely addressed, but one could argue that environmental concerns will soon degrade Americans’ quality of life, and in a lot of ways this has already begun to occur.

In areas where this is the case, policy regarding general water and air quality issues are just as important as regulation of pollution that only occurs in a specific region. For example, the Chesapeake Bay Watershed is an area with unique concerns, but some of the pollutants are problems in other watersheds as well. States are capable of creating their own policies and regulations based on their highest environmental priorities. However, the federal government should take every opportunity to set an example for states to follow; some legislatures that are hesitant or unsure of how to proceed when regulating various pollutants could benefit from more direction or incentive from the federal government.

Discussions about regulating pollutants have been ongoing for many years, both on a national level and even within the Chesapeake Bay Watershed where Washington College is located. There are many non-profit and non-government organizations that have been working tirelessly for years to improve water quality within this watershed, but those organizations come with limited resources. It then falls to local residents to fund plans presented by the government, such as budgets for each county to both clean up and prevent the various sources of pollution within the state of Maryland.

Unfortunately, cleaning up the water and air that are essential to our health and high quality of life does not come cheap. For example, the wastewater treatment plant in Chestertown was recently upgraded, but the citizens of Chestertown as a whole made a decision to pay for it because they felt it was necessary. Not all towns or cities may feel improvements such as this are a priority. The staggering costs discourage political leaders from putting even more financial pressure on constituents, and everyone wants an easier way out of the situation. The problem may be that counties do not fully understand the regulations in place, or they do not understand how to go about implementing the necessary improvements.

The Clean Water Act celebrated its 40th anniversary late last year, and it has become a model for improving water quality all over the country, including the area where our campus is located. This policy impacts how both elected officials and citizens deal with the environment today, but there is still a great deal of progress to be made. Perhaps if the Environmental Protection Agency and other federal governing bodies revisited the discussion about water quality, they could come up with new and improved solutions that are relevant to multiple Watersheds in the present, rather than the past.

The sooner a consistent and transferable foundation is laid by the federal government, the easier it will be for state politicians to get their constituents involved. Bottom up regulation is effective when environmental concerns are specific to one region, but fragmented efforts may not be as efficient. The federal government as a whole should be taking environmental issues more seriously in the present, because they will not be any easier or cheaper to fix in the future. They may be unpopular issues at first, but it is important for everyone in the area to realize that in the end, we are the ones that will have to pay for the damage done in the past, and we should not continue to leave the responsibility for future generations.

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