Monday, August 25, 2008

A Call for a Summit on the Delaware Estuary

Jennifer Corbett/News Journal

The governors of Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania convene every year to evaluate the progress of joint efforts to insure a positive environmental future for the Chesapeake Bay.

W. Michael McCabe, who served as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Mid-Atlantic regional administrator and deputy administrator from 1995 to 2001, thinks it's time that the states devote equal attention to the Delaware River and its estuary.

In an Aug. 24 op-ed piece in the (Wilmington) News Journal, McCabe notes that 50 years ago industrial pollution had turned the Delaware River into "a biological dead zone," so bad that the U.S. Navy was able to reduce ship maintenance by anchoring vessels its waters "because it was so polluted nothing would grow on the hulls."

But times have changed. Marine scientists from the University of Delaware College of Marine Studies and Rutgers University recently discovered a colony of sponges and reef-building worms stretching for more than a mile along the bay floor.

McCabe says the fact that rich pockets of aquatic life still exist in what once was one of the nation's most polluted industrial rivers is
"a tribute to pollution control laws and the tenacity of nature."

Additional progress is noted in a recent report by the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary which examined not only just the Delaware River and Bay, but the whole estuary system, including the tributaries that feed into it.

News Journal file photo

McCabe says the study found "dramatic reductions in oxygen-robbing sewage and chemicals and dangerous toxins."

Anyone who's tempted to run up a "Mission Accomplished" banner should note that the State of the Estuary Report also found that "run-off from pesticides, fertilizers, sediment and transportation-linked pollutants" are now the greatest threat to the estuary's water quality and that "contaminants derived from chemicals that aren't regulated under water quality programs -- such as pharmaceuticals and personal care products" are an emerging concern.

In addition, the Partnership reports that the Delaware's extensive wetlands are under tremendous pressure from development, with an analysis showing a 12 percent loss of tidal marshes over the last decade.

Delaware residents will select a new governor in November who will face a number of important issues relating to the river, including "a proposal to deepen the ship channel to 45 feet, the location of a disposal site for dredging the Port of Wilmington, and recent lawsuits requiring industry to use the best available technology to limit the discharge of heated wastewater."

McCabe recognizes that the Delaware River "is not only a living resource supporting a diverse environment, but also a working river supporting a population of almost 8 million people and the commerce they generate."

The challenge for the incoming governor will be to balance all interests while engage neighboring states in a cooperative effort to assist the river's environmental rebound.

Anyone for a summit meeting?

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