Image by Chesapeake Bay Program licensed under Creative Commons.

The Chesapeake Bay is an economic and environmental engine for the Washington region. It’s also in serious jeopardy, as Donald Trump wants to make big cuts to the agency that cleans, studies, and cares for it. Environmental experts say the cuts would be disastrous for the region’s waterways.

The Trump administration delivered its 2018 budget proposal to Congress on Thursday, and it includes cutting the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by 31%, from $8.1 billion to $5.7 billion. This would mean 3,200 employees losing their jobs and programs such as climate change research and Chesapeake Bay cleanup being canned. Currently, the Chesapeake Bay cleanup program has a yearly budget of $73 million, and Maryland and Virginia each received $9 million for its own cleanup efforts in 2016.

The Chesapeake Bay contributes extensively to the region’s environmental health and ecology, tourism, and economy. Pollution in the bay could affect drinking water for those who get their drinking water from wells, make seafood unsafe for consumption, and contribute to higher levels of waterborne disease.

More than 17 million people live near or along the Chesapeake’s watershed. Two ports, Baltimore and Hampton Roads in Virginia, use the bay for commercial cargo traffic, and Maryland’s aquaculture economy - mostly fishing and oystering - relies on the bay. Fishing and related industries in Maryland and Virginia contribute to hundreds of millions in income and tens of thousands of jobs, and would be harmed if pollution increased in the Chesapeake Bay.

Cutting the EPA’s budget so severely would mean far less federal money would go to state and local jurisdictions. And without that support, states just can't handle Chesapeake cleanup.

“[The] EPA provides scientists and assessments so states know how to use their dollars. Most of that money goes out directly to the states and localities for on the ground projects that reduce flooding,” said Hedrick Belin, President of the Potomac Conservancy.

Some EPA funding goes towards grants, like ones given to Takoma Park to implement green energy infrastructure and Forest Heights to reduce pollution runoff from rivers and streams. This runoff, if unchecked, would eventually reach the Chesapeake Bay.

“On the Potomac, pollution levels are decreasing, fisheries are rebounding, and more people are getting outside to enjoy their local rivers and streams,” Belin said. “The Chesapeake Bay program brought shad back to the Potomac and oysters back to the bay. We should not turn our backs on these successes.”

Jim Foster, President of the Anacostia Watershed Society, expressed concern over the budget cuts. “Everything that happens on land eventually affects water,” he said.

One of Foster’s top concerns is how budget cuts will affect human health, namely strong air pollution regulation for what kind and how far pollution can be transported across state lines, which has ramifications for local governments whose residents encounter those pollutants on the road or on their grounds.

“We know from past administrations that when environmental and human health take a backseat to corporate profits and interests the outcomes are not what are best for Americans,” he said. “We can do better. Make the environment great again.”

Joanne Pierce is a Northern Virginia native and a graduate student in public administration and policy, focusing on resiliency and emergency response. She lives in Alexandria and enjoys learning about pretty much everything, including the history of pencils.