As someone who grew up in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, President Trump’s proposed budget cuts to the United States Environmental Protection Agency deeply concern me. Revoking the Bay’s federal funds would not only undermine years of progress, but would devastate communities within the watershed as well.
The Chesapeake Bay watershed is home to nearly 20 million people across six states and Washington, D.C. The beloved Maryland blue crab and Virginia oyster support thriving fisheries thanks to the efforts that have been made to clean the Bay over the past decades. The Chesapeake Bay supports precious ecosystems, a thriving economy, and a way of life. Anyone who grew up on the coast knows what it’s like to meet up with old friends at a local oyster roast or to crack into the first “Jimmy” of the season. Unfortunately, with the proposed budget cuts, this way of life may become a luxury of the past.
One of the major problems contributing to the Chesapeake Bay’s health is runoff from farms, gardens, and lawns. Runoff includes excess sediments, nutrients, and chemicals that otherwise would not be introduced to the Bay. For clarification, I’m not blaming anyone in particular or suggesting that we more heavily regulate the sources of runoff to the Bay. As the granddaughter of a farmer and a resident of a small town in rural Virginia, I will always support the men and women who devote their lives to serving their community through farming. What I am suggesting is that each resident of the Chesapeake Bay watershed take it upon themselves to help alleviate the problem of runoff to the Bay.
But what can you, an individual, do to help “Save the Bay”? The answer is probably easier than you think and it’s something you can do in your own back yard (and front yard too!). Better management of your soil, yes—dirt, can make an impact on the Bay’s health. If everyone took it upon themselves to better manage their lawns and gardens, and even farms, we could make a big impact. Individuals can make a positive change in the Bay through conservation tillage, reduced or more targeted use of fertilizers and pesticides, and managing plant species to help reduce runoff.
Well managed soil can help reduce runoff by absorbing rainfall like a sponge. There is less pore space to “soak up” the water when soil is compacted. However, when the soil is rich with plant material and open pores, rain can infiltrate the ground and runoff is reduced. Another soil management approach is to never leave a field or a garden fallow. Empty fields expose the soil to erosion from wind and rain, which eventually enters the Chesapeake Bay. To reduce your input of sediments and other pollutants, make sure to plant cover crops for all seasons. A simple, but important soil management method, is to only fertilize your soil if absolutely needed. Cutting down on fertilizer application will help alleviate the input of nutrients to the Bay. A potential alternative to fertilizers is making your own compost.
When people across the entire watershed implement these management practices there can be great cumulative effects on the Chesapeake Bay’s health and prosperity. Better yet, individual action will not only help the Bay, but can help sustain a way of life.
Morgan Rudd is first year graduate student at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment.