This month’s Ask a Scientist column focuses on a different kind of science: economics. We asked Beth McGee, senior scientist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, to answer a question about the importance of the Chesapeake Bay to our region’s economy. As you’ll read, the Chesapeake Bay is more than an extraordinary ecological system – it’s also an incredibly valuable industry.
When you think of an “industry” – like the steel, health care or business industries – you think of a well-oiled, intricate business system. You could calculate the economic value of that industry in terms of jobs created, value of their product, and other economic benefits.
If you think about it, the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem is also an enormous, productive industry. Like any other system, every part – rivers, wetlands, forests, animals, people and so on – has a role in the whole “machine” working at optimum levels.
So how much is the “Chesapeake Bay industry” worth? According to many economists, placing a value on the Bay is difficult because some of its features are difficult, if not impossible, to quantify. For example, how much is a beautiful sunrise over the Bay worth? Or the joy of catching our first rockfish of the season? Or watching our children play on the beach? Because we can’t quantify these values in terms of dollars, they are not explicitly factored into our estimate of the Bay’s value.
The best we can do to estimate the Bay’s overall economic value is to compile information on its tangible “products and services” – the “parts” of the entire Bay industry.
In 2004, the Blue Ribbon Finance Panel report estimated that the Bay’s value was more than one trillion dollars related to fishing, tourism, property values and shipping activities. If you were to adjust that figure for inflation, the number would have increased to roughly $1.144 trillion by 2011.
A recent report released by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation provides some more specific examples of the economic benefits associated with the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem.
If you were to add income generated from forestry, recreational boating, ecotourism, heritage tourism, shipping, and many other industries, it’s easy to see how the “Chesapeake Bay Industry” could reach one trillion dollars.
That figure could be higher if we restored the health of the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers and streams to make them even more productive. When the Bay’s “products and services” decline, there are costs.
Investing in clean water technologies creates jobs and stimulates local economies. A recent study by the University of Virginia found that better agricultural practices, such as livestock stream exclusion, buffer plantings and cover crops, would generate significant positive economic impacts. Every $1 of state and/or federal funding invested in agricultural best management practices would generate $1.56 in economic activity in Virginia.
For urban areas, an analysis of the value of investing in water and sewer infrastructure concluded that these investments typically yield greater returns than most other types of public infrastructure. For example, $1 of water and sewer infrastructure investment increases private output (Gross Domestic Product) in the long-term by $6.35.
And what about the costs and benefits of regulation? A recent report by the Economic Policy Institute states: “Regulations are frequently discussed only in the context of their threat to job creation, while their role in protecting lives, public health, and the environment is ignored.” Furthermore, the same study reports that the Office of Management and Budget reviewed major regulations covering 2000 to 2010 and found that, each year, the benefits substantially exceeded the costs an average of seven times over.
No industry can survive using a model of constant production without reinvestment. The longer we go without “reinvesting our profits” into our “ecosystem machine” – via wastewater upgrades, critical habitat restoration, good development and agricultural practices, and other actions – the greater our costs are going to be in terms of our health, our quality of life, our pockets and the waterways we care about.
The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is seeking federal designation of several Northern Neck creeks and rivers as “no-discharge zones,” which would prohibit overboard dumping of treated or untreated sewage to reduce bacteria contamination in local waterways.
No-discharge zones promote the use of pump-out facilities and dump stations to safely dispose of sewage from boats. The certification of marine sanitation devices, which treat and/or hold sewage on vessels, is targeted to meet fishing and swimming standards in local rivers.
Shellfish harvest restrictions due to fecal bacterial contamination are common throughout Virginia’s tidal Chesapeake Bay tributaries. This contamination has been linked to a variety of sources, including failing septic systems and sewage discharge from boats.
DEQ is proposing no-discharge zones for select water bodies in Richmond, Lancaster, Northumberland and Westmoreland counties. The four-county proposal will be sent to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for review by July.
Virginia already has no-discharge zones in the Lynnhaven River in Virginia Beach, and in Broad Creek, Jackson Creek and Fishing Bay in Middlesex County. In the Lynnhaven River, one marina reported that pump-outs nearly doubled when the tributary was designated as a no-discharge zone. Fewer boat sewage discharges combined with other pollution-reduction measures led to the re-opening of 1,462 acres of condemned shellfish growing areas to commercial harvest.
DEQ and the Northern Neck Planning District Commission will host a public meeting on June 14 to summarize the no-discharge zone application. The meeting will be held at 6 p.m. in the A.T. Johnson Alumni Museum in Montross. DEQ will accept public comments on the application June 15 through July 15, 2011.
Visit DEQ’s website to learn more about Virginia’s “no-discharge zone” program.
Maryland will provide more than $29 million in grants to upgrade wastewater treatment plants and septic systems, improve sewer systems, and restore stream banks to reduce pollution to the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers.
As much as $8.9 million will go toward Bay Restoration Fund grants to upgrade septic systems with nitrogen-reducing technology. Traditional septic systems do not remove nitrogen, instead delivering about 30 pounds of the pollutant each year to groundwater. Upgraded septic systems reduce nitrogen pollution discharges by half.
The La Plata wastewater treatment plant and the Broadneck water reclamation facility will both receive Bay Restoration Fund grants to implement Enhanced Nutrient Removal. After the upgrades, the facilities will reduce their nitrogen discharge by 62.5 percent. The La Plata wastewater treatment plant will receive $8.8 million and the Broadneck water reclamation facility will receive $7.5 million.
Other funded projects include:
Do you have any clue what geocaching is?
I’m guessing a lot of you said no. Well, no worries. I didn’t know either. That is, until I went for the first time this week. Luckily, I had some enthusiastic volunteers to teach me the ropes.
Geocaching is basically treasure hunting outdoors using a GPS-enabled device. There are actually more than a million geocaches hidden around the world to discover. We managed to find three of them at the Accokeek Foundation in Accokeek, Maryland.
Your quest to uncovering a cache starts online at www.geocaching.com. You can see a map that lists all the geocaches hidden worldwide and pick which ones you feel like hunting down. You then grab the coordinates of those points and plug them into your GPS-enabled device to start your journey.
The GPS will get you close to the cache, but then you need to do a little exploring to find where it is hidden. Once you find it, you take the prize hidden inside and leave your own prize of equal or lesser value for the next explorer to find.
Geocaching is a great way to get outdoors and explore different areas. It is also a great learning experience for kids. Many of the geocaches include riddles or puzzles that you must solve to find the hidden treasure.
The National Park Service and the Accokeek Foundation are hosting a geocaching event this Saturday, June 4, as part of the Captain John Smith Geotrail. If you’re looking for something to do this weekend, I encourage you to get out and try a new activity!
Here’s more information about the Captain John Smith Geotrail launch event:
The Captain John Smith Geotrail officially launches on Saturday, June 4th, at the Accokeek Foundation at Piscataway Park in Fort Washington, Maryland. The Maryland Geocaching Society, Northern Virginia Geocaching Society, and Magellan, manufacturer of GPS navigational devices will all be represented. Everyone will have a chance to win raffled door prizes, including a GPS device donated by Magellan. Geocaching volunteers will be on hand at the kick-off event to teach the basics to newcomers, and extra caches will be placed, including some just for kids. The event begins at 10:00 am and runs until 12:00.
A collectible, highly coveted, and trackable geocoin will be given to the first 400 geocachers who locate a minimum of 15 geocaches along the trail and record them on a special CJS Geotrail Passport. A sample of the coin and hard copies of the passport will be available at the launch event on June 4th. Coordinates for the CJS Geotrail cache sites will be released at approximately 11:30. Geocaching enthusiasts will download the coordinates, pick up their passport, and spend the rest of the weekend on the Captain John Smith Geotrail!