Mary Clemmensen, Staff Attorney at Chesapeake Legal Alliance

Mary Clemmensen, Staff Attorney at Chesapeake Legal Alliance

The Chesapeake Bay is on all of our minds with summertime in full swing. It’s a time to fish, swim, kayak, sail and enjoy the region’s natural beauty – but also a time to double down on our commitment to improve water quality. We recently caught up with Mary Clemmensen of the Chesapeake Legal Alliance, an MCAC partner, to talk about CLA’s role in the Bay cleanup and what more needs to be done to bring the Bay back to full health.

CLA’s Role in the Bay Cleanup

“CLA coordinates a network of pro bono lawyers who volunteer their time and professional skills, free of charge, to represent environmental organizations, citizens’ groups and individuals in their efforts to improve the health of the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed,” says Clemmensen.

Their legal support is wide-ranging: they oversee legal cases to enforce clean water laws, comment on and appeal permit decisions, advocate for better laws and develop trainings and guides to encourage citizen participation in decisions affecting the environmental health of their communities. They also help Bay organizations develop legal strategies to cleanup local water ways and promote land conservation, and provide corporate support.

Obstacles to Meeting the 2025 Bay Cleanup Goals

“To meet the 2025 Bay cleanup goals, the Chesapeake Bay states will need to find innovative ways to reduce non-point sources of pollution,” says Clemmensen. These non-point sources include local septic, urban and suburban stormwater and agriculture.

Getting sufficient funding and resources to implement and enforce state and federal laws to regulate pollution reductions from areas currently not meeting their goals continues to be a challenge as well, especially in the current political climate and with shrinking state and local budgets.

Maryland’s northern neighbor faces another big challenge: agriculture pollution. “Pennsylvania is lagging significantly in reductions of pollutants from the state’s 33,600 farms,” says Clemmensen. “Providing additional state staff to track and monitor these operations is a major challenge Pennsylvania will need to address to close the gap by 2025.”

What More Can Be Done by the Agriculture Industry to Improve Water Quality

“The agricultural industry in the Bay region has a great opportunity to become leaders in sustainable agricultural practices that can improve water quality and increase the value of their products through sustainable branding,” says Clemmensen. “More education and incentives should be provided to farmers to take advantage of federal and state programs that encourage best management practices such as cover crops, stream buffers and no till crop production.”

Clemmensen also says that agricultural operations should also take advantage of state and industry programs that aim to reduce pollution. Some of these programs support moving manure away from nutrient saturated land, keeping cattle out of streams, storing manure in storm resistant houses and implementing targeted nutrient application technology to reduce excess manure pollution runoff into streams.