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Protect your watershed for your own sake - June 14, 2012

Change the oil in your car every 3,000 miles. Visit the dentist every six months. Have a wellness check-p with your primary care physician once a year. Change the filters in your heating and air-conditioning system, regularly. Visit the eye doctor once every couple years. Call your mother. Buy your spouse a thoughtful gift. Invite a friend to lunch. Take your pet to the veterinarian. Take care of your watershed.

We care for, tend to, and maintain our cars, our homes, our yards, our pets, our relationships and ourselves. We all understand the benefits of preventative care and maintenance. It helps preserve the things and the people that we care about and that enrich our lives. Taking care of ourselves, friends and family, and our stuff also helps to save us from complications, headaches, inconveniences and illnesses.

Proper care and maintenance can also save us money. And money talks. Many of us, especially during the tough economic times of late, take care to save money. We clip coupons, look for deals and sales and try to spend our money wisely. And, whether for the cost savings or the environmental benefits or both, we purchase fuel-efficient vehicles, Energy Star appliances, thermostats which regulate the temperatures in our homes and many other things designed to save us money.

Now, I'm asking to you follow that line of thinking just a little bit further -- outside -- to the ditch in your yard that flows into the creek, that drains into the river, that enters the estuary, and, eventually, empties into the ocean. And I'm not just asking you to think about the water, I'm asking you to include all the land that surrounds the water -- the entire "watershed."

Protecting watersheds helps to ensure clean water, a healthy environment, healthy communities and healthy people. It also fosters a healthy economy. And it saves us money.

Once a watershed is impaired, the costs of restoring its health sometimes seem insurmountable. We all know the Chesapeake is in bad shape. It has been for decades. If the health of the Chesapeake is to be restored, it will likely take decades more.

Each summer, the Maryland Coastal Bays Program releases a Report Card, indicating the relative health of our coastal bays, including Assawoman, Isle of Wight, Newport, Sinepuxent and Chincoteague bays. Overall, our coastal bays have received a grade of "C" for the last few years. It's not great.

We have work to do. We certainly don't want the health of our bays to continue to decline.

Collectively, we need to act. Yes, for the bays, but also for us. Remember, clean water is vital to our survival. Here on the Eastern Shore, everything we do is connected to the water. It's where we live, how we recreate and how we make our living. Our health, our quality of life and our economy are all integrally tied to the health of our local waterways.

In a new fact sheet released last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reminds us, "protecting our nation's healthy watersheds makes economic sense." Healthy systems provide "ecosystem services." Healthy watersheds filter and store water, filter air, store carbon, cycle nutrients, form soil, provide safe places for recreation and supply food, timber and other resources.

According to a 2011 Gallup poll, nearly 80 percent of people worry about the pollution of lakes, rivers, streams and drinking water.

Studies show that, over time, the total economic value of intact ecosystems exceeds that of lands converted for intensive economic uses.

Healthy watersheds help prevent additional costs, too. Forests and wetlands can help mitigate the impact of severe weather, flooding and climate change.

So, take care of our watershed. Take care of our community. Take care of you. It is all inextricably linked.

The Maryland Coastal Bays Program works in partnership with towns, local, state and federal agencies, community organizations, residents and visitors to protect our watershed. For more information, visit www.mdcoastalbays.org.

Samis is the education coordinator for the Maryland Coastal Bays Program.


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