Chesapeake Waters: Pollution, Public Health, and Public Opinion, 1607-1972

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Chesapeake Waters: Pollution, Public Health, and Public Opinion, 1607-1972. Centreville, MD, Tidewater Publishers, 1983. 201 p.


Preface The Chesapeake Bay is the most studied and best understood estuary in the United States. Yet, it is practically unexamined in the areas of the social sciences and the humanities. While millions of dollars have been spent on producing the thousands of studies that examine the physical, biological, chemical, and engineering aspects of the Bay, little attention has been given to understanding the political, cultural, and economic character of Bay governance. The relationship of the governments of Maryland and Virginia to the Bay is imperfectly documented. Government documents which do exist are scattered in various libraries in both states and have not found their way into the numerous bibliographies that have been assembled for the Bay. In Virginia, the State Water Control Board did not produce annual reports until 1972, the cutoff date for this study. In Maryland, the reports of water-quality agencies tend to be perfunctory and repetitive, and they give little indication of the real issues facing the agencies over the years. The many planning documents which do exist (the recent Corps of Engineers’ Chesapeake Bay Study is the largest) are general compilations of information and issues rather than original pieces of research. As a result, the present study has had the benefit of little scholarship to point the way. The researcher is forced to approach his material as though he were an archeologist, finding a few shards here, a few bone fragments there. Piecing together a coherent study out of the fragments requires a certain amount of logic, a workable hypothesis about the overall nature of the creature to be described, and some theories about how the evidence fits together. But the story is worth telling. After all, the quality of Chesapeake Bay is a matter of public opinion as well as scientific opinion. Those concerned about the Bay must understand the human-political dimension as well as the physical-biological side. We relied primarily on written sources. Those proving most fruitful have been the annual reposts of various state agencies, the occasional reports of study commissions and blue ribbon panels, and the codes, statutes, and case law of the two states. Agency files proved difficult to use because they are boxed and stored, full of irrelevant material, unorganized, and uncataloged. Interviews with persons familiar with Bay issues have given a general orientation to a particular period and suggestions of topics of sources for further research. We have not attempted to get detailed information of specific events through such interviews. The written record, we feel, stands on its own. In particular, we also made use of the abundant collections of newspaper files in libraries. While newspaper articles may have questionable accuracy, they identify key issues and place them definitively in time. Without them, numerous controversies, left only to the official archivists, would go unrecorded. In this study, information from newspapers gives a sample of issues and shows the broad trends in water-quality awareness. Feature articles in magazines and newspapers are particularly useful, because they both reflect, and partially shape, the public attitudes toward the bay. Changes in these attitudes provide data used through the report. We hope that this book has something to say that has been neglected in the public debate over the Bay. Its conclusions do not mean that scientists should be involved less in research on the Bay. They simply suggest that economists, political scientists, historians, and lawyers, should be involved more.

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