The Chesapeake Bay region’s economy has been significantly affected by water pollution in the Bay and its rivers, according to a new report by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF).
The report, The Economic Argument for Cleaning Up the Bay and Its Rivers, states that the Chesapeake Bay TMDL, a federal “pollution diet” being developed to clean up the Bay and its rivers, will not only result in clean water and a healthy Bay, but also a strong regional economy.
“The Chesapeake Bay can be a fertile source of jobs as well as crabs and rockfish,” said CBF Maryland Executive Director Kim Coble. “This report totals up what we've lost economically with the Bay's decline, and how much more we stand to lose if we don't increase our commitment to reducing pollution.”
One of the Bay’s most significant contributions to the region’s economy is the seafood industry. A 2008 NOAA report indicated that the commercial seafood industry in Maryland and Virginia contributed $3 billion and more than 41,000 jobs to the local economy.
However, the blue crab and oyster fisheries have declined due to polluted water, resulting in substantial economic losses. Between 1998 and 2006, watermen, grocers, wholesalers, restaurants and crab processors in Maryland and Virginia lost about $640 million due to the decline of crabs in the Bay. The decline of the Chesapeake oyster and its fishery – which were once called “Chesapeake gold” because of their profitability – has cost Virginia and Maryland more than $4 billion in losses in the past 30 years.
The Chesapeake Bay’s economic contributions go well beyond fisheries. Efforts to clean up the Bay and its rivers will also benefit the region’s economy, according to the report. A recent University of Virginia study found that implementing agricultural conservation practices such as buffers, cover crops and livestock fencing to levels necessary to restore the Bay would create 12,000 jobs in one year.
Clean waterways are also linked to increased property values. A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency study indicated that clean water can increase by up to 25 percent the value of single-family homes that are located as much as 4,000 feet from the water.
Economic losses are not restricted to the immediate areas surrounding the Bay. In Pennsylvania, nearly two million people go fishing each year, contributing more than $1.6 billion to the economy. However, polluted streams have restricted brook trout to a small fraction of its historic distribution. In Virginia, where one million anglers cast their rods each year, a 2005 fish kill on the Shenandoah River resulted in roughly $700,000 lost in retail sales and revenue.
Nature activities such as wildlife watching, ecotourism and boating dependent are large economic drivers for the Bay region and are all dependent on clean water. Roughly eight million people spent $636 million, $960 million and $1.4 billion in Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania, respectively, in 2006 on wildlife-watching expenses and equipment.
For more details, read the full report at CBF’s website.