I’m posting it here and sending a link to Mayor West so no one will be able to say they weren’t warned.
CHESAPEAKE’S COMING WATER CATASTROPHE
Sometimes fishermen who live close to nature see things coming well before those who are in charge, and Chesapeake is facing a catastrophe largely of its own making.
Chesapeake draws its drinking water from the Northwest River near the North Carolina border only a few miles from my home. I am on the river several times each month.
The watershed for the Northwest River is not terribly large, flowing from Southwestern Chesapeake East to the Northwest River Park, then turning South down to Tull’s Bay and the Albemarle Sound. Wind driven water level fluctuations have tended to cause brackish water from the sound to intrude into the lower river, and this is balanced by the fresh water flowing down from the watershed. It has been normal for the lower portion of the river to have short periods of wind driven brackish water intrusions especially after the passage of cold fronts . In the last few years, however, those brackish water intrusions moved farther up the river and are lasting longer. This year, the lower river has been brackish since January, from the NW River Park down. There was no crappie or bream spawn in that part of the river this year, a canary-in-the-coal-mine warning of declining water quality. On July 2nd, the brown, cloudy, brackish water was just over a mile downriver from the Chesapeake water intake facility near the 168 Bypass. It is inevitable that the brackish water will soon threaten our drinking water supply.
So, what happened? Is it Climate Change? Not directly, it is because of climate policy.
A decade ago, the Northwest River watershed was nearly all forested with mixed hardwood lowlands and swamps. These forests trapped rainfall and released it gradually, offsetting the wind driven water fluctuations. Those forests escaped harvest for centuries because the wood was of little value, but in the UK and Europe, complex carbon credit trading schemes created a huge market for renewable biomass in the form of wood pellets. In theory, burning wood pellets is carbon neutral as the CO2 released is recaptured when the trees grow back. Lowland hardwood forests which were untouched since Colonial times have been clear-cut for wood pellets. But the land, having been cleared, has been converted to farmland and subdivisions instead of letting the trees grow back.
Rainfall on lowland forests takes a up to a week to filter down to the river, but rain falling on farmlands and lawns is either absorbed, or is drained into the river, in hours, where it can be swept into the sound by the North winds that follow a frontal passage and replaced by brackish water when the wind changes back to South. The gradual replenishment of the fresh water in the river that protected the upper portion of the river, and the water intake, has been greatly reduced. The ability of the watershed to purify itself has been largely destroyed.
At this point, I don’t know how this damage could be repaired. Even if we had control of the private property that has been cleared, we could not reproduce those lowland forests in our lifetimes. The Northwest River might just have to be written off. I will have to find another place to fish and Chesapeake is going to have to find another source for fresh water.
But what can be salvaged is a lesson. Since the trees are not being regrown, burning wood pellets instead of coal is not going to make a bit of difference to the climate, but creating that false market is rapidly destroying the diverse Southern hardwood forests in Virginia and the Carolinas and the watersheds that depend on them. The environmental costs are massive and irreparable.
Well intentioned policies almost always have unintended consequences. We need to be a lot more careful about considering those consequences before we meddle in the marketplace with feel good policies that do more harm than good.
For now, we need to stop digging the hole deeper. Export of wood pellets or other biomass for failed climate policy must be stopped.