Perspective: Save Your Local Creek and Save the Bay 

by Chuck Epes, Contributing Writer

Chuck Epes

We at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation have made our motto, “Save the Bay,” into a popular bumper sticker and rallying cry for restoring the Chesapeake Bay, a national treasure.

But as well-known as the slogan might be, some Virginians – especially those who live in the central or western parts of the state – just don’t identify with the Bay. Save the Bay? Not my problem. I live in Winchester or Covington or Lynchburg or Culpeper.

The truth, of course, is that the Bay’s watershed – the land area that ultimately drains into the Bay – includes more than half the land mass of Virginia. In fact, two of every three state residents live in the Bay’s watershed. For most Virginians the Bay is as close as the nearest creek or stream. And as the health of our backyard creeks and streams goes, so goes the health of the Bay. Just as a sturdy tree is supported by a system of healthy roots, a thriving Chesapeake Bay depends upon a system of thriving creeks, streams and rivers.

Survey after survey finds that huge majorities of Virginians want clean rivers and streams. We all want to swim and fish and paddle in Virginia rivers without fear of sickness and pollution, and we want our kids and grandkids to enjoy our abundant natural resources for generations to come.

For most Virginians, the Common­wealth’s rich natural heritage is a quality-of-life issue. The rivers, mountains, valleys and vistas define us. They are why we live here, why we work here, why we raise families here.

Whose responsibility is it to ensure these natural resources are protected, that our streams and rivers and Chesapeake Bay are clean? Certainly state government has a large role. Article XI of the Virginia Constitution explicitly states “it shall be the Commonwealth’s policy to protect its atmosphere, lands, and waters from pollution, impairment, or destruction, for the benefit, enjoyment, and general welfare of the people of the Commonwealth.”

That is why the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and other concerned groups often call on Virginia’s elected officials to adopt and enforce environmental laws, and to fully fund the government programs charged with protecting our natural resources. 

Ultimately, however, the health of our creeks, the protection of our Chesapeake Bay, the responsibility for our natural resources rests with each of us. Just as it is our individual responsibility to take care of our children, to maintain our homes, to stay informed, or to vote, it is also our individual responsibility to be stewards of the environment.

Certainly that means holding government officials accountable, but more fundamentally it means holding ourselves accountable. It means taking responsibility for our own actions (and inactions), changing habits that abuse or waste natural resources, and being part of the solution, not the problem. The reality is, Virginia will have clean rivers and a healthy environment only when we individually and collectively demand it of ourselves and of our government.

What can you do?

• Make your yard Bay-friendly. In your landscaping, use a diversity of native shrubs and grasses that don’t require as much watering or fertilizing. Reduce or eliminate the use of chemical herbicides and pesticides.

• Shrink the amount of lawn in your yard by planting beds of trees, shrubs and other groundcovers. Have your soil tested be­fore using fertilizers, and apply only the amount needed and generally only in the fall.

• Don’t dump toxic substances such as solvents, paints and preservatives down storm drains. They go directly into waterways to pollute streams and rivers. Use your county’s hazardous waste collection program instead.

• Plant trees. Besides providing oxygen to the atmosphere and food and homes for wildlife, trees hold soil in place with their roots, preventing erosion that runs into rivers. They also soak up fertilizers and other chemicals before they seep into waterways. And trees shade your home, reducing energy costs.

• Conserve water. Take shorter showers, and turn off the tap while brushing your teeth, washing your hands, or doing the dishes. Install rain barrels to catch and reuse gutter water. By reducing your water use, you help wastewater-treatment plants function more effectively by reducing the volume they process.

• Drive less. Air pollution, much of it from vehicle exhaust, contributes more than a third of the nitrogen pollution plaguing the Bay. Make it a personal goal to combine errands and limit car trips to reduce auto emissions. And if you buy a new car or truck, choose the most fuel-efficient, low-emission model you can afford.

• Buy local foods. Many of the foods we eat travel an average of 1,300 miles before they reach our plate. Buying food grown on local farms minimizes transport-related air pollution and keeps local farmers in business; that’s good for Bay lands and Bay water quality. Shop for your produce at farmers’ markets, or join a farm co-op, also known as a community-supported agriculture farm. To learn more, visit

• Become an informed voter. One of the most important individual actions you can take is to vote for thoughtful and responsible land use and conservation policies in your community. 

• Introduce a friend or child to a local stream. Many people don’t realize they are part of a larger watershed and that their actions have an impact on water quality. Share your concerns about a local river and the Bay with neighbors, or visit a stream, creek, or park with a child. If people love the environment, they will be more likely to take care of it.

• Join the Chesapeake Bay Foundation or a local river organization and get involved in local environmental issues. Sign up for our Action Network and write an e-mail or make a phone call to an elected official; insist that the environment be a priority.

President John F. Kennedy said, “One man can make a difference, and every man should try.” The Chesapeake Bay Foundation believes profoundly that the Bay can be saved, that it will be saved, but it all begins and ends ... with you.

For more information, check out the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Web site at

Chuck Epes is assistant director of media relations for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

What’s Your View?

Obviously, there are at least two sides to every issue. Do you have a different view? This column is meant to provoke thought, so keep sending comments. Each one is read with the utmost interest. Send e-mail to:, or send written responses to the editor. Mail will be forwarded to the author.




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