The Maryland House and Senate recently honored former Senator and former MACo President C. Bernard “Bernie” Fowler for his 50 years of work to clean up the Chesapeake Bay. Fowler, who is a current member of the Chesapeake Bay Commission received the award just one month shy of his 92nd birthday.
According to the Bay Journal,
The recognition comes after efforts to recognize Fowler in the Virginia and Pennsylvania legislatures, which his commission colleagues put forth this year. Virginia’s resolution called Fowler a “tireless and persistent champion” of restoring the Bay and his beloved Patuxent River, where he nurtured his love of oysters, crabs and lush Bay grasses.
Fowler — who was in Florida, so his son accepted the award on his behalf — called the recognition “a very, very humbling experience. It was totally unexpected.”
So iconic in the Bay movement that most people simply call him Bernie, Fowler is a symbol for many of grace and persistence. He began his fight to save the Patuxent River more than 50 years ago, when he noticed declines in oyster, fish and crab populations around the same time that upstream counties, including Howard, were growing. He felt certain that increased growth and more discharges from sewage treatment plants were fouling the river.
When he couldn’t get the regulators’ attention through meetings and letters. Fowler, then a Calvert County commissioner, joined with the commissioners of St. Mary’s and Charles counties and sued the Environmental Protection Agency to tighten the treatment plants’ discharge limits.
With the help of researchers from the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science in Solomons — who had hard evidence to support the complaint – the counties prevailed. The EPA reduced the plants’ discharge limits for nitrogen and phosphorus. And Fowler helped pass legislation barring sewage discharges from Calvert County into his beloved river. (Treated wastewater is applied to the land instead.)
Then-Gov. Harry Hughes visited the Patuxent, then teeming with oysters, and declared he would work to save it. The scientists at Solomons were so grateful that they named one of their labs in his honor.
Back then, Fowler said, he thought it was possible to restore the river, and perhaps even the whole Bay, in 20 years. Fowler represented Calvert County in the state Senate from 1983 to 1994. Those were heady years for environmental protection. The first Chesapeake Bay Agreement, which Fowler helped inspire, came in 1983; the next year, the legislature passed the Maryland Critical Area law, restricting development close to the shoreline.
To keep the clean-the-river movement going, Fowler began wading into the Patuxent to gauge its health by seeing how deep he could go before losing sight of his feet. Every spring since 1988, he’s donned coveralls and white sneakers and walked hand-in-hand with friends, family and others into the river to find out how clear the water is.
His wade-ins have inspired others to do the same in many communities around the watershed. The Patuxent Wade-in is always the second Sunday in June. This year’s event is scheduled for June 12 at Jefferson Patterson Park.
“Bernie knows the magic of clean water and a productive Chesapeake Bay,” said Ann Swanson, the bay commission’s executive director. “His dedication to the Bay’s protection has been contagious and his disciples are everywhere.”
To read the full article of Fowler’s recognition for Chesapeake Bay advocacy, please visit the Bay Journal online.