On a bright, warm Thursday morning at the Jordan Point Marina, the James River is captivating. Above water, birds from ospreys to Bald Eagles soar through the sky. Below water, species from blue crabs to bluegills come together to create a diverse ecosystem. And don’t forget the many varieties of underwater grasses that help feed the fishes, filter runoff and make the water clear.

These are just a few of the 3,600-plus species of plant and animal life supported by the Chesapeake Bay. Of the 50 major tributaries that feed into the bay, the James River is one of the five largest. That’s why we’re so pleased to see Virginia lead the way in restoring the Chesapeake Bay.

Clean water requires care and attention. Back in 2010, decades of neglect compelled the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to take action and improve the Chesapeake Bay. A new set of pollution limits were placed on nitrogen, sediment and phosphorous entering the estuary, with a final deadline of 2025 to meet all goals.

Six states that constitute the bay’s watershed, including Virginia, and the District of Columbia were responsible for individualized plans to help meet collective goals. Late last week, Gov. Ralph Northam unveiled the commonwealth’s final clean water blueprint — a plan the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) commended for being “strong, detailed and practical.”

“As our current progress has shown, cleaner waters are good for our economy and our quality of life, and these actions will help ensure that future generations can continue to benefit from our vast waterways,” Northam said in a statement.

After a trip out on the water with the CBF, we recognize the complexities of keeping the James River and Chesapeake Bay healthy. Sources of pollution are complex, ranging from livestock in farm fields to stormwater on city streets.

Virginia is not the sole actor involved in helping the bay reach its full vibrancy. In its downstream position as the southernmost state, the commonwealth leans on partners like Pennsylvania to do their part. As of May, the CBF labeled that state’s work as “significantly behind,” especially in agriculture and stormwater pollution reduction.

“A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and that is also true for the partnership working to restore water quality across the region,” CBF President William C. Baker said in a statement. “Today, unfortunately, Pennsylvania’s link is not only weak, it is broken.”

Even the smallest species can have a sizable impact on quality. The most abundant fish in the Chesapeake Bay is the bay anchovy — a key player in the overall food web. As these small creatures feast on zooplankton, they’re also a key food source for more predatory fish like bluefish.

A perfect environment is a lofty goal. But we can all certainly think about how we utilize natural resources like the Chesapeake Bay.

In Richmond, we’re part of the 18 million people who call its watershed home. Locals and tourists enjoy nearly 12,000 miles of shoreline for recreational activities. Inland and coastal restaurants serve us the 500 million pounds of Chesapeake Bay seafood harvested each year.

As our state leaders and environmental advocates spend hours crafting detailed plans to maintain these benefits for the community, let’s consider our individual roles in restoring the bay. One small move by every household to reduce pollution goes a long way. And if you’re interested in a hands-on role with key components like underwater grasses, visit the CBF’s “Volunteer Virginia” page or call (804)-780-1392 to get more involved. The bay is one of our most precious treasures.

— Chris Gentilviso

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