Editorial: Too much
The earliest story we have on file regarding condemned waters in Gloucester and Mathews is from 1991. The story told which waterways had such high counts of fecal coliform that it would be unsafe to eat shellfish taken from them. It showed that 4,344 acres of local waterways were considered unclean at that time.
The latest figure, printed in the July 11 Gazette-Journal, is 4,522 acres. Each year the numbers may go up or down some, especially when a lot of rain causes excessive runoff and pollution follows.
In any case, the figure is hundreds of acres too many.
A battle against water pollution has been waged here for 50 years or more—at some times with more effort and effect than at others. In that period, we have seen corresponding battles to save the oyster; save the rockfish; save the crab; to "Save the Bay," the message borne on bumper stickers distributed by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
There is some progress in fighting decline, and this effect is noticed especially after strict measures are taken to preserve the stressed populations of various marine species. However, the figures on pollution remain stubbornly high, in spite of millions of dollars spent to upgrade sewage treatment plants and new laws protecting waterways from runoff.
When settlers arrived 400 years ago they found the waters clear, clean, and thick with marine life. The numbers of humans grew rapidly. Over the centuries, people used and abused the water as it served their purpose and not until relatively recent generations have we begun to reap the bill.
Reversing the decline will be a long process, and it’s likely that ever-stricter measures must be taken if the bay can be restored to a condition in any way comparable to what it displayed at the settling of Jamestown in 1607.
The resistance will be strong, as it has always been. The problem is not so much that opponents of stricter measures don’t care about the bay, but that they are counting the cost, both in dollars and inconvenience, to the various groups they represent. Homebuilders, waterfront property owners, farmers, municipalities, commercial watermen, tourism businesses, all have some sort of footprint at the bay’s edge or on the water and they resent further restrictions on what they can do.
Compromise is always the order of the day when new measures are taken to fight pollution … that is as it should be, so long as progress can be quantified.
But. But. Without a healthy and clean Chesapeake Bay, the treasures created by our waterfront have little or no value. The annual report of condemned waters, but one count of impairment, proves that we have a long way to go.
A bit of good news
On the other hand, our local beaches are clean, according to the latest reports from the Virginia Department of Health. The areas of condemned waters are mostly found toward the headwaters of creeks and rivers, and where the tide can flow freely, so far, the waters are healthy.