Daniel Sze, a member of the Falls Church City Council, is the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments Chesapeake Bay and Water Resources Policy Committee chairman.
When you think of the Chesapeake Bay, maybe you imagine a weekend away sailing or fishing, exploring lighthouses or enjoying crabs or rockfish. Investments in the health of the bay watershed ensure that these things can be enjoyed by all. But you don’t have to cross the Bay Bridge to see these investments at work.
Consider our own local gems, the Potomac and Anacostia rivers. These rivers and area streams are also being cleaned up thanks to bay restoration efforts, making metropolitan Washington a better place to live, work and play. Aquatic vegetation and native species such as the American shad are rebounding. Bald eagles are again nesting along our rivers. Harmful algal blooms aren’t threatening the Potomac, the primary source of drinking water for millions in this region. Residents, employers and tourists are drawn to our waterways, as is evident by the redevelopment of the District’s Southwest Waterfront, the boom at National Harbor in Prince George’s County and the restoration of the Four Mile Run area in Alexandria and Arlington.
These accomplishments have been decades in the making. Last year, the bay received a better grade on its annual report card than it had in more than 15 years, but there is much work to be done.
The Chesapeake Bay watershed is vast, so progress has been possible only because of federal, state and local partnerships. Improvements are largely thanks to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Chesapeake Bay restoration program, with the support of 20 other federal programs, six states and the District, 1,800 localities, 27 academic institutions and 60 organizations.
The bay is only as healthy as the waterways that flow into it, so restoration work also includes investments by local governments, water utilities, companies and residents. Wastewater treatment plants, including Alexandria Renew Enterprises, have been upgraded and are pioneering methods of energy recovery, wastewater byproduct recycling and innovative financing. DC Water uses “green” century bonds to help finance its Clean Rivers Project, including building enormous tunnels that capture stormwater and wastewater for treatment.
Local governments are also exploring innovative ways to reduce stormwater runoff via permeable pavement and retention gardens, among other actions.
In my own city of Falls Church, two streams, Pearson and Coe branches, were restored from a channeled or piped creek to a more natural habitat. These projects improve water quality, and we all enjoy these stream valley parks that have been brought back to life. Green infrastructure jobs are being created, too.
These investments are paying off, but we’re at a crucial stage. Local governments and water utilities will continue to do their part, but as a key player in this region, the federal government must also do its part. If federal funding for the bay is reduced or eliminated, we will lose the primary glue holding the many partners together, and our waters will get worse. Federal involvement ensures that all partners will be at the table for future planning.
Everyone wins when we work together for clean water.
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