Protect Our Great Waters

Environment Maryland Research and Policy Center

Executive Summary

 From the Chesapeake Bay to the Puget Sound to the Great Lakes to the San Francisco Bay, Americans throughout the country depend on our waters for fishing, recreation and clean drinking water. These waters are the home to some of our most cherished wildlife, like orcas, blue crabs and bald eagles. American families from coast to coast travel to our great waters every summer to relax and enjoy some of nature’s wonders. And year round our great waters are host to some of America’s great cities, including San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, Baltimore and New Orleans. Our waters are integral to the economies of these cities and their surrounding areas. With robust tourism industries and longstanding fishing trades dependent on clean water, protecting our great waterways is necessary for both our environment and our economy.

Unfortunately, our waters continue to be plagued by high levels of pollution. A few miles from the nation’s capitol, mega-chicken producers generate 1 million tons of manure waste, much of which ends up in the Chesapeake Bay. Across the country in just one year, industrial facilities dumped 232 million pounds of toxic chemicals into our waters. And twenty-four billion gallons of sewage are dumped annually into the Great Lakes alone.

Excess nutrient pollution coming from mega-agricultural productions and runoff from developed areas is causing massive algae blooms in a number of our great waters. These algae blooms consume the oxygen in the water, resulting in dead zones where no aquatic life can survive. During the summer, enormous dead zones can be found in Long Island Sound, Chesapeake Bay, the Gulf of Mexico, the Great Lakes, and the Puget Sound. The dead zone in Lake Erie has grown to be larger than the state of Connecticut.

Dead zones, toxic chemicals, and the destruction of wetlands around our great waters are significantly damaging to the health of the ecosystems, wildlife, and people who depend on them. Salmon populations in the Columbia River and Puget Sound have dropped dramatically over the last century. And in the Chesapeake Bay, oyster populations are at 1 percent of their historic numbers. Depleted fish and aquatic life can have devastating effects on the fishermen that make their living off these waters and the recreational sport fishing that contributes to local economies.

The environmental significance of these waters is unparalleled and the enjoyment that they add to our lives is unquestionable. The contribution our waters make to our local, regional, and national economies spans many sectors, and it will take a comprehensive effort to protect them. One of the largest economic engines that our great waters fuel is the tourism industry. People travel across the country and world to visit them. For example, every year, the revenue generated from the recreation, tourism and fishing industries in the Long Island Sound exceeds $5.5 billion. These environmental treasures and the economic benefits they provide can only continue to exist if the beauty and health of these waters are maintained.

To restore and protect our great waters, Environment America is calling on Congress to pass legislation this summer that will reduce pollution, increase investments in restoration efforts, and protect our most treasured places for generations to come. This report highlights the following eight waters across the country that are in the most need of increased protections and immediate restoration efforts: Long Island Sound, Chesapeake Bay, the Gulf of Mexico, Lake Tahoe, the Puget Sound, the Columbia River, the San Francisco Bay and the Great Lakes.


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