Seeing is Caring

In preparation for our upcoming Journey in which we will explore the environmental changes from mountains to ocean within the Bay watershed, I began thinking about the immense amount of change the Chesapeake Bay has seen in its time. Earlier I wrote about how changes in the built environment, such as in architecture, indicated a cultural shift in the tidewater. However, the built environment also causes changes in the natural environment. Some of these changes have observable aspects, which are important in alerting us of much deeper, more complex issues, but also create a more emotional reaction to the decline in the Bay’s health.

Murky, brown water after a heavy rain is a visible effect of large amounts of sediment being washed into the estuary, for example. Seeing this change in the environment leads us to examine what the effects of large amounts of sediment entering our tributaries are, and why it is happening. One of the top three pollutants of the Bay, sediment runoff increases turbidity, which limits the amount of light that can reach the bottom of tributaries and prevents subaquatic vegetation from growing. It can also kill oysters by clogging their filtration systems. Just these two effects alone can result in a decrease in water quality. What are the sources of sediment runoff? Aside from natural erosion, barren crop fields, construction sites, and dirt roads are the biggest components. (Dr. Fox’s lecture)

We must use these visual cues from the natural environment to inspect our built environment and see where we can improve. Best management practices like planting cover crops after growing seasons are over and investing in controlled drainage structures, and personal practices like upgrading old septic systems and using less lawn fertilizer are all helpful ways to lessen the negative effects of our built environment. As Wendell Berry proposes in Preserving Wildness, we cannot separate ourselves from our environment in order to preserve it, instead we must create a loving economy that “rewards and enforces good use” and “place[s] a proper value on all the materials of the world…from soil and water, air and light to the finished goods” (Berry 523). By paying or cutting costs with farmers to implement these practices, the government is trying to reward them for helping to reduce negative effects of our built environment. Unfortunately, this does not help people place value on the soil or water, and that is the vital component in restoring the Bay’s health. Seeing dead fish due to low oxygen levels is much more likely to get people to care about eutrophication than reading articles about it in the Bay Journal.

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