Guest Blog: Rebecca Ruggles on the Bay Watershed Agreement

What does it mean when a public entity holds a two hour public comment session and it is over in about an hour?  Not a good sign!

Those of us who went to speak at the Chesapeake Bay Program’s public session on the final draft of the Bay Watershed Agreement had time for reflection after the meeting.  It only took about an hour.  We had blocked from 10 to noon, and about a dozen of us did speak.  But as one commenter noted, “There should be people creating a traffic jam on Forest Drive this morning and standing in a line down that hallway.”

The reason they were not, we think, is because they know this Agreement is not worth their time.

What are its flaws?

Claudia Friedetzsky of Maryland Sierra Club asked the Management Board to add a focus on climate change and measurable goals related to climate change adaptation.  Failing to mention such a massive threat showed the Bay Program lagging behind scientists and the public consensus.  We need your leadership on this, she said.

Jill Witkowski from the Choose Clean Water Coalition explained why senior Chesapeake Bay Scientists and policymakers developed an alternative, the Citizen’s Bay Agreement with 25 action steps.

Ruth Berlin of the Maryland Pesticide Network asked the Commission to address toxics, citing human and environmental threats and the full documentation of the toxic contaminants in the Bay, from the EPA’s December 2012 report.

I added that the Maryland Environmental Health Network has recently done a brief assessment of best practices for reducing pesticides in urban waterways.  “The experts agree we need more information, and the field is thin.  The goal you rejected last summer is so reasonable and minimal.  MdEHN asks that you reconsider and add this to the Agreement.”

Then I read a synopsis of the very simple proposed addition they had considered last summer and rejected: “Assess research to improve knowledge of effects of contaminants by 2015 so future strategies can be considered.”

Such an extremely modest thing to propose – but shot down as not needed!

Perhaps the most striking assessment of the Final Draft of the Bay Watershed Agreement, which is supposed to establish a basis for collaboration across the political boundaries of watershed, was given by Ray Sullivan of Save Your Annapolis Neck.

I didn’t write down his exact words but his point was powerful.  “Why are no real estate developers, no one from agriculture or the chemical industry here today commenting on this agreement?  It’s because they already got everything they want.  They know this is a toothless agreement!”

Next time when I’m sitting through a long hearing or waiting my turn to speak on a long list, I’ll remember this experience at the Management Board meeting of the Chesapeake Bay Program.  Better to be part of a noisy throng fighting to get the future right, than working on something that has no chance of making a difference.


rebeccaRebecca Ruggles is Director of the Maryland Environmental Health Network. She was formerly Director of Special Projects at Baltimore Medical System (BMS), a community health system serving Baltimore City and Baltimore County. Rebecca consults to the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers as the coordinator of the Green Funders affinity group. She sits on the Board of Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake (formerly Chesapeake Covenant Community), a network of congregations and people of faith pursuing better stewardship of our natural world. She is a member of the Health Care Sustainability Leadership Council and an active member of the Greater Baltimore Asthma Alliance.