from the Times Leader, Wilkes-Barre, PA

Despite snow and ice, the governors of three states and the mayor of Washington posed for pictures recently outside a replica of a colonial-era shallop during an annual meeting about the degraded health of the Chesapeake Bay.

After getting the shot, the governors of Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania strode into the Maryland Capitol to tell reporters that progress on the Chesapeake Bay cleanup was slow going, and that the region would not meet the states’ 2010 cleanup goals. Moreover, the leaders failed to agree to several pollution reductions that environmental groups had called for.

Chesapeake Bay Foundation President Will Baker, sitting in the audience, was frustrated. He’s spent 30 years working on the bay’s restoration. He’s seen plenty of politicians promise change would come, but the Chesapeake continues to languish.

“What the bay needs now is your leadership to get the job done,” Baker wrote the governors and mayor before they met. “It does not need more public signings of directives. It does not need more photo ops.”

For scientists and activists who work to revive the Chesapeake _ and millions of residents and visitors who enjoy the nation’s largest estuary _ progress has been maddeningly slow.

It’s been more than three decades since the public became alarmed about the Chesapeake’s decline, with fish kills and algae blooms common and nearly every critter living in the watershed less abundant than when Captain John Smith explored the waters 400 years ago. But today, the Chesapeake is still in bad shape.

Earlier this month, the bay foundation gave the Chesapeake’s health a grade of “D” for the ninth consecutive year. Despite hundreds of millions of dollars spent over the last few decades by states around the Chesapeake, nearly every indicator of water quality and plant and animal life health is down.

“There is a level of frustration building up,” said Bill Dennison, a vice president of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. “There’s a long, long road ahead of us.”

States around the Chesapeake first agreed to pollution reductions in a 1983 agreement. Optimism was high that pollution would be reduced and that bay grasses and oysters and crabs and waterfowl would return to their historical population levels. “Save The Bay” became a popular bumper sticker, and a popular slogan for politicians in the region.

“Back then, I think everyone thought we truly could restore the Chesapeake Bay,” said Ann Swanson, who started working on Chesapeake restoration in the early 1980s and now heads the Chesapeake Bay Commission, which works with lawmaking bodies in the states around the bay.

“For the first 15 years, we truly believed the Chesapeake Bay could be saved. But with the population growth in the area, as fast as we took two strides forward, we would take three strides back.”

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