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A Better Bay is Our Bread and Butter

It brings us boat shows for one; holds back flooding for another

Over the next two weeks, the U.S. Boat Shows flood the economy of Chesapeake Country with $50 million. In Annapolis, the shows create an autumnal wetland of value, invigorating much of the local economy. From Annapolis, the dollars flow outward in many rivulets to the boating world.
    Chesapeake Bay has brought the shows to Annapolis for four decades.
    The recreational dollars generated by these shows are one small part of the wealth the Bay brings us, which amounts to $107.2 billion annually, according to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. Clean up the Bay, and the value will rise to $130 billion every year. That’s the conclusion of The Economic Benefits of Cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay, a “first-ever analysis” just released by CBF.
    All six Bay states, plus the District of Columbia, share in the bounty.
    Just how is that figured?
    It’s pretty deep economics. But basically, seven land uses — from forest to open water to agriculture — were first assigned baseline values of ecosystem health and productivity. Baseline figures were calculated and compared according to what we citizens choose — or don’t choose — to do to take care of Chesapeake Country waters and lands.
    The billions in benefits come to us in many forms, including agricultural and seafood production, recreation, property values, air and water filtration and protection from floods and hurricanes.
    Invest the $5 or $6 billion the big cleanup will cost Bay wide, and economic benefits soar to that big $130 billion figure.
    Make excuses for doing little or nothing, and the Bay gives us less in return. Received annual value drops from the 2009 baseline of $107.2 billion down to $101 billion.
    Billions are pretty hard to grasp. What those billions mean for us, our kids and our grandchildren are real economic benefits such as higher housing values and more productive soil and land.
    Drinking water is another real value, especially as water scarcity becomes an issue for the world, from California across the Southwest and on to drying wells in Chesapeake Country. Three-quarters of the 17 million people in the Bay watershed drink surface water, with many straws sucking from the Potomac.
    Short-term thinkers are trying to convince you that Bay restoration is a bottomless pit of spending and regulation.
    It’s true that cleaning up the Bay is a big and expensive job that demands each of us to do and pay our share.
    But it’s a job with big dividends.
    In our neck of the woods, a cleaner Bay translates directly into dollars-and-cents value.
    Take the tourists drawn by the Chesapeake, for example. Tourists — many arriving right now for this month’s boat shows — spent an eye-popping $58 billion in 2009. That money fed the economies of waterfront communities up and down the Bay and is distributed “among diverse industries, individuals and communities” throughout the watershed.
    Take flood control for another. High-tide floods may triple in 15 years and increase ten-fold in 30 years in many coastal towns, according to another report, this one just released by the Union of Concerned Scientists. The study stretched from Texas to Maine. In Atlantic Coast communities, increases in flooding are expected to be “pervasive.”
    In Annapolis, 2030 could bring 180 tidal floods a year. 2045 could bring 360 floods a year, 50 of them extensive. “Without substantial measures to defend against rising seas … parts of Annapolis could never be dry again.”
    The may in the Concerned Scientists’ study depends on what we do — or don’t do.
    That’s one more reason for us to stop complaining and get to work.
    The Bay Foundation study proves for the first time and without a doubt that Chesapeake restoration is far more than a government excuse to take your money and wrap you in red tape. It’s a vital economic issue for all of us in Chesapeake Country.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; editor@bayweekly.com