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The Chesapeake Bay Crisis: Why Should I Care?

Lucy Hummer

“Save the Bay” is a phrase that has become incredibly sensationalized over the last decade or so. But why? What does it really mean? DC is located within the Chesapeake Bay watershed, and most of you probably already knew that. However, the definition, scale and ultimate repercussions of this fact are likely unclear. This is a sad truth, but it does not need to be this way forever. We should all care about the bay, and we should all do our part to ~save~ it.

According to our trusty friend dictionary dot com, a watershed is essentially a drainage basin, one which collects precipitation to ultimately flow into a surface water outlet such as a river or bay. Decoded, this just means all of the land where gravity pulls water towards one body as opposed to another. The Chesapeake watershed, then, includes six states and the District, all water ultimately flowing into our great Bay. The ecosystems found within this geographical region are diverse, rich, and beautiful. They are also unfortunately at great risk. Humans have continued to exhaust the resources of the watershed and abuse the Bay to the point of nearly killing it.

The use of the word ‘killing’ is extreme and often used as an alarmist tactic, but in this case it is entirely true. Toxins in water lead to a process called eutrophication, which means the amount of dissolved oxygen decreases over time. Fish, aquatic plants and other creatures then have less air to breathe, and in some cases sections of waterbodies can be literally classified as “dead”.

This matters to you and me for a variety of reasons. Beyond the general, ‘we should all care about our Earth, nature is beautiful, blah blah blah, etc etc etc’, the Bay holds many utilitarian purposes. As the diverse regions of land use around the watershed continue to degrade due to human influence, this leads to many unplanned consequences on the local economy and beyond. Those who live directly on the Chesapeake itself are affected by actions of those hundreds of miles away. I am from central Pennsylvania, nowhere even close to the Bay’s coastline. However, if I decided that I wanted to apply pesticides to my mom’s front lawn back home, within no time those chemicals would end up in the Bay, along with all of my neighbors’, too.

Every decision we make every single day has an ecological consequence, whether it be positive or negative. As we all know, the Earth operates under a series of cycles. I understand that it is not easy to visualize our ultimate impacts on the Earth. How could me choosing not to lay commercial pesticides at my mom’s house and then slapping a Save The Bay bumper sticker on my Kia Soul do anything at all? I see it the same way as I see voting. Everybody gets the whole concept of ‘make sure you go out and vote in elections, even though it seems like your voice doesn’t really have an impact’. I don’t see how this concept is ANY different. The Chesapeake Bay Watershed is a massive resource, one which is taken advantage of and degraded every single day. Especially as college students who live within the watershed, it is important to care. It should matter to you, and it does impact you. Not to be super dramatic, but the Bay is dying and she is beautiful and we must help her.

The Groundwater Crisis: Why Should I Care?

Lucy Hummer

Groundwater is something that we often forget about. We can’t see it, we don’t really understand a use for it, and we generally “other” it from the water we drink or enjoy at the beach. However, as we all learned in 3rd grade with the water cycle, all water is the same. This means that the trillions of gallons that are stored deep under the surface of the earth in between sand and rock can and will become the water which we drink much quicker than we may think.

So what is groundwater? While it may not be the most glamorous topic, we can go ahead and categorize fresh water into three sections for ease of this illustration. This will give us: drinking water, surface water and ground water. We can say that drinking water is all of the industrially stored water, whether that be in a pipe that has been clarified and prepared to enter your tap, or in a $5 plastic bottle in the CVS refrigerator. Surface water is what immediately comes to mind when you think of fresh water, meaning our lakes, streams and rivers. Ground water, then, is everything else. Massive deposits of water are found directly under our feet, called aquifers, traveling from the clouds deep down below the water table.

Why does this matter to you? Our groundwater sources are at risk. Tens of BILLIONS of gallons of groundwater are extracted from the earth each day in the United States alone, and this water is being used much more rapidly than it is being recharged. While we continue to treat this water as an inexhaustible resource, it takes years for an aquifer to refill just a few inches. That 3rd grade water cycle lesson drilled into our minds that water is a renewable resource, but this is not entirely true. Our view of the seemingly unending supply of safe and clean water must shift to seeing it instead as a privilege, as this may not always be the case.

Industries, particularly the cattle industry and agro-business in the southwest United States, are using this groundwater alarmingly rapidly. If the aquifers run dry, it will take centuries for them to recharge. I can say with a fair amount of certainty that this groundwater crisis, partnered of course will the umbrella issue of climate change, is the largest and most pressing environmental issue facing the world today. Some towns, in the United States and internationally, are already running completely dry. So why is nobody talking about it? Is it because at large ‘groundwater’ sounds so boring?

While it is of course the best way to make environmentalism engaging and accessible to the largest amount of people, we must de-glamorize the concept of eco-advocacy. Issues like the groundwater crisis are happening NOW and we must do what we can to make ourselves care, regardless of how mundane they seem in concept.

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