The health of the Chesapeake Bay is a big deal. According to one recent estimate, it could be as much as a trillion-dollar deal. As the Bay’s water quality continues to be negatively impacted by polluted runoff, its 150-year-old crab, oyster and fishing industries have nearly collapsed. Blue crab and oyster harvests are at historically low levels, and once-thriving fishing communities are now virtual ghost towns.
A cleaner Bay would mean a resurgence of crab, oyster and fish populations; and related to that resurgence, a return of tourism dollars and tourism-supported jobs; an increase in property values; and the resultant boost in tax revenues.
A recent report by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (The Economic Argument for Cleaning up the Bay and its Rivers) reveals the real economic benefits that the Bay brings to local, state and the national economies.
Some of the findings of this report include:
• In today’s dollars, the Bay is worth $1 trillion related to fishing, tourism, property values, and shipping activities;
• In Virginia, every $1 spent on better agriculture practices returns $1.56 in economic activity;
• An EPA study concluded that every $1 spent on source-water protection saves an average of $27 in water treatment costs;
• The commercial seafood industry in Maryland and Virginia equals $2 billion in sales, $1 billion in income, and more than 41,000 jobs per year;
• Pennsylvania residents spend $1.7 billion annually on boating;
• Pennsylvania’s fishing industry brings in $1.6 billion annually;
• Recreational boating brings Maryland’s economy $2.03 billion and 35,025 jobs per year;
• Wildlife watchers in Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania spend almost $3 billion annually on trip-related expenses and equipment; and
• New, clean water-technology industries are creating new jobs for the communities within the Bay watershed.
Restoration of Bay ecosystems not only improves the health of fisheries and other wildlife, but also the health of local, state and even our national economies. Ecological services like the filtering and storage functions of healthy, vegetated floodplains cannot be artificially duplicated. Restoring the health of streams and rivers feeding the Bay, and curtailing pollution entering those waterways, are the only long-term, permanent solutions saving the Bay. Having pointed out the huge economic value of the Chesapeake Bay, we also advocate a broader view of the benefits of restoring our ecological resources. Healthy water resources have value beyond what we see on a spreadsheet. As Oscar Wilde famously said, we must not become like those who know the “price of everything but the value of nothing.”
Author Doug Pickford of Trout Headwaters, Inc. (THI), an environmental planner with 20 years of experience in the Chesapeake Bay area, follows events in the bay watershed as the tide turns from voluntary to mandatory for bay cleanup regulations and protections. Doug’s blog series for THI will document what is likely the largest and most significant watershed clean up effort in the history of the U.S., and offer his insights into some practical ways to assist the health of this magnificent natural resource.