U.S. Senator Ben Cardin

Letters From Ben

June 11, 2022

Chesapeake Currents

Dear Fellow Marylanders:

The Chesapeake Bay is a national treasure. For Marylanders, the Chesapeake Bay is an iconic part of our culture, economy and history. With this in mind, the Chesapeake Bay Report Card is an important annual milestone worthy of attention.

This week, which coincides with Chesapeake Bay Awareness Week, the dynamic team at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science released a more-comprehensive-than-ever annual report card for the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, which received an overall grade of C+.

The Lower Bay scored the highest of any region again this year, and the lowest scoring regions were the Patapsco and Back Rivers and Patuxent River. The Upper Eastern Shore also has a slightly declining trend – the first declining trend documented since the 2014 report card.

Fortunately, while individual indicators of Bay health had mixed results in 2021, the overall Bay-wide trend is improving over time. So are many regional trends. Four out of 15 regions showed significantly improving health trends.

While the long-term trajectory of Chesapeake Bay Health overall remains positive, the mixed results in this year’s Bay Report Card remind us how important it is to remain committed to the partnerships that have set us on a long-term path toward progress on the Bay’s recovery. Recent alarmingly low population estimates for keystone Bay species like the striped bass and blue crab urgently reinforce that concern.

We are now decades into the multi-state, multi-agency, regional partnership to restore the health of the Chesapeake Bay. Having accomplished so much, it sometimes can seem the job is done and we can end investments in the Bay’s health.

I’ve heard the naysayers: Haven’t we fixed all the big problems? Isn’t our water clean enough? Are we done yet?

In a word, no. Our gains, though substantial, are incomplete. So much work still remains to be done. And it will take a shared passion, muscle and determination to get us there.

We must never forget that our joint effort to better conserve the Chesapeake Bay is truly revolutionary. It was not only the first such regional federal-state-local effort of its size and type, it continues to serve as a national model of how to do things the right way. It was created out of a shared understanding that without collective and coordinated action, sacrifice and investment, we were going to lose a shared treasure. And that remains both the reality and the mission today. 

We cannot lose sight of the reality that the number of ecological stressors confronting the Chesapeake Bay is only increasing over time, especially in this era of human-induced climate change. More concerning is the fact that once momentum is lost, it can boomerang, suddenly taking us in the wrong direction.

This year’s Chesapeake Bay Report Card also serves to remind us of the importance of making strategic investments in communities, maintaining vigilant oversight of critical infrastructure and expanding the use of best practices for agriculture.

That is why it is essential to move forward quickly on major projects like the Mid-Chesapeake Bay Island Ecosystem Restoration project, in which the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers revitalize the fast-disappearing James and Barren Islands.

There, the Corps will restore more than 2,100 total acres of uplands and wetlands and protect more than 1,300 acres of potential habitat for the submerged underwater grasses vital to a host of fish and wildlife. I fought hard, both in direct advocacy and through the appropriations process, to deliver the federal funding that kick-started the project. Ultimately, we guaranteed the project’s first several years of design and construction through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

It also is essential to be ever-mindful of the massive conservation benefit that can come through working to protect and improve our rivers, streams and waterways at the community level. That’s why Senator Chris Van Hollen recently joined me in leading our colleagues from the Chesapeake Bay watershed in urging Senate leaders to support across-the-board funding sufficient to answer the many threats facing the health of the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

“Our states are heavily invested in implementing a Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint designed to restore this national treasure. Continued federal partnership to support this complex, regional effort is key to their success,” we wrote in calling for a $91 million funding level for the EPA Chesapeake Bay Program and more than $440 million in federal grants to support clean water. 

We also advocated funding levels of $15 million for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Chesapeake WILD program; $10.7 million for the NOAA Chesapeake Bay Office; $5.6 million for National Park Service Chesapeake Bay Office programs; and more than $17 million for scientific and monitoring services of the U.S. Geological Survey.

The theme for Chesapeake Bay Awareness Week 2022 is, “Restoration Brings Results.” As we celebrate restoration projects throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed, our resolve to better the Chesapeake Bay must not waver, and the federal government needs to maintain its role as the bedrock partner of the Bay restoration effort. This year’s Chesapeake Bay Report Card serves as an important measure of our restoration progress, as well as a poignant reminder of how much remains for us to do.      

Thank you. Please stay safe.

Ben Cardin