(Beyond Pesticides, December 7, 2007) According to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s annual State of the Bay 2007 report, the health of the bay declined this year, and it received a failing “D” grade after dropping one point on the health index to 28 out of a total of 100 points. The aim of attaining 40 points by 2010 and removing the bay from the nation’s dirtiest waters list now seems to be unattainable.
The health of the bay has been evaluated every year since 1998, focusing on 13 indicators: oysters, shad, crabs, striped bass (rockfish), underwater grasses, wetlands, forested buffers, resource lands, toxics, water clarity, dissolved oxygen, and phosphorus and nitrogen pollution. Once examined, each indicator is assigned an index score and a letter grade, which when taken together gives an overall rating for the bay. This year phosphorus pollution and water clarity worsened and blue crab populations declined. Blue crab harvests are expected to be the lowest since the 1940s. There were no significant improvements in the other indicators.
The bay states: Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania, as well as the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and the mayor of Washington D.C. pledged to reduce pollution in the bay after signing the Chesapeake Bay Agreement in 2000. This includes reducing nitrogen pollution, which is mainly as a result of the use of agricultural and residential fertilizer that enters the bay system. As of 2006, only 19 million pounds of the target 110 million pounds of nitrogen have been reduced.
“For the last 20 years, the Bay restoration record has been littered with deadlines missed and actions not taken,” said Chesapeake Bay Foundation President William C. Baker. “Today, our elected leaders have a clear choice–accelerate their recent investments or revert to politics of postponement.”
The Foundation is calling for the public announcement of timetables for the programs that would help achieve the commitments outlined in the 2000 agreement. It is also suggested that the next priorities should be upgrading sewage treatment plants and completing targeted farm conservation plans, which would reduce approximately 37 million pounds more nitrogen pollution. Better control of stormwater is also recommended.
Between 2000 and 2004, little had been done by the states to meet their commitment to clean up the bay. However, in 2006-2007, Virginia committed significant amounts of money to upgrading its sewage plants, while Maryland passed its “flush tax,” which has generated millions of dollars to upgrade sewage treatment plants in 2004. Despite these achievements, power plants are still allowed to emit large amounts of mercury and nitrogen into the atmosphere, and along with rapid development, which includes more houses, lawns and cars; more nutrients are added to the bay. The much debated 2007 federal Farm Bill may have boosted restoration efforts by providing an unprecedented amount of funding critical for local bay farmers to implement conservation practices, and for water quality improvements in rivers, streams, and the Bay. However, this legislation has stalled in Congress.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation estimates that even with current programs and investments in place for reducing air pollution, upgrading sewage treatment plants, and controlling agricultural runoff, there are approximately 41 million additional pounds of nitrogen still to be reduced.
You can play a part in restoring the bay. Limiting the cosmetic use of chemicals on residential lawns can go a long way for reducing nitrogen runoff to the Chesapeake Bay. Beyond Pesticides has information about the growing movement in the U.S. to eliminate the cosmetic use of chemicals on lawns and landscapes. Please visit http://www.beyondpesticides.org/lawn/factsheets/index.htm. Learn more about the importance of the Chesapeake Bay at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.