See, It’s Not Just the Bay; It’s the Chesapeake Watershed

By Allison Frick

The legal aspects of cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay are baffling.  Each week I spend on the subject I feel as though I am wading deeper and deeper into murky waters, getting my feet stuck in the muddied details of different federal and state programs all designed to help restore, protect or save the Chesapeake.

Stepping back after hours of research and reading, well quite frankly my head hurts.  After three weeks on the beat, all the information, stats, and facts I have collected were still swirling around in my mind.  Today, all that changed, I wouldn’t say it stopped, but to use a completely obvious, not-so-funny, yet very appropriate, bay-related play on words, the sediment settled.

Much like my bad joke, I am embarrassed about how long it took me to appreciate that the sheer size of the Chesapeake Watershed is a major factor in why legal issues surrounding restoration efforts are so complex.  In his book, Turning the Tide, Tom Horton explains just how large the Chesapeake Watershed is.  He writes that even though the bay itself is “small” and “skinny,” at about 195 miles long and 4 to 30 miles wide, the entire system is “about twenty times that size.”

There are rivers and streams that feed the Chesapeake from New York to Virginia.  That means in total there are six states included in the watershed: Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, and of course New York and Virginia.  It is one thing to know how big the Chesapeake is, and another to really see just how expansive the Chesapeake Watershed is.

Chesapeake Watershed (National Park Service)

The map above is from the National Park Service’s, Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network, which highlights historic sites and parks throughout the entire Chesapeake Watershed.  The National Park Service publishes a brochure about the bay, and it was a very simple heading  within the “Chesapeake Bay Gateways Map and Guide,” that made me understand just how large the watershed is.  The guide reads, “Gateways: Seeing the Big Picture.”  The brochure states: “The waters of the Bay extend almost 200 miles with 12,000 miles of tidal shoreline…it covers 64,000 square miles…”.  Reading that paragraph and being able to see just how far the watershed extends clarified my understanding of the Chesapeake.

I wanted to take the time this week to share this story about how I came to really grasp the size of the Chesapeake because it proves that seeing and knowing are two very different things.

I grew up on the Chesapeake.  My parents had a sailboat and we would take it out every weekend from before I can remember to the time I was thirteen.  I remember sailing underneath the Bay Bridge on really windy days, and being amazed at just how long it took us to get there.  It is difficult to grasp the complexity of an issue, if one cannot, as the NPS brochure instructs, “…see the big picture.”

In order to understand the laws and programs governing the Chesapeake Bay, the big picture must be taken into account.  The Chesapeake Bay is part of a much larger system, just like state and federal laws are part of the legislative branch.  By examining the Clean Water Act, the Chesapeake 2000 Agreement, and the establishment of a Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load, BayStat and the Maryland State Chesapeake Bay Monitoring Program, my goal is to untangle the net of official efforts being made to restore the bay in a manner that appreciates the sheer size and complexity of the Chesapeake Watershed.

Allison Frick

Map: Courtesy of National Park Service

About Us

Bay on the Brink is a multimedia reporting project examining the fate of the Chesapeake Bay. It is produced by fellows at the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism as part of News21, a consortium of journalism schools. This is the fellows' blog. The full project site is here: http://chesapeake.news21.com
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A photo on Flickr
A photo on Flickr