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How Do we Love Our Chesapeake?

Let us count the ways

A couple of tried, true and trite figures of speech can help you understand the week’s layered news on the health of the Bay.
    Can you walk and chew gum at the same time? Practicing that feat of coordination will prepare you to understand the new Chesapeake Bay Program take on how we’re doing in cleaning up the Bay we all say we love.
    The good news is the Bay diet is working.
    We’re actually cutting back the fast-food diet of nutrients and sediment streaming into our Bay.
    Except for a two percent rise in nitrogen and sediments between 2013 and 2014.
    Got that?
    In 2009, the EPA set the equivalent of a strict calorie limit on how much nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment the Bay could swallow. By 2014, nitrogen loads dropped six percent (15.83 million pounds). Phosphorus dropped 18 percent (3.40 million pounds). Sediment dropped four percent (327 million pounds).
    All this is happening because of pollution controls put in place over the last five years by Maryland, Delaware, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and the District.
    But our poor Bay’s calorie intake is enormous: 282 million pounds of nitrogen a year; 19 million pounds of phosphorus; almost nine billion pounds of sediment a year.
    So you won’t be surprised that there’s still a long way to go before the Bay gets to its ideal nutritional balance by 2025. For nitrogen that’s 217 million pounds, 14 million pounds of phosphorus and seven billion pounds of sediment.
    Just what is the Bay’s junk food? Agricultural runoff is tops, followed by wastewater and sewer overflow, fallout of airborne pollutants, urban runoff and septic systems (for nitrogen).
    A walk in the park, understanding that, isn’t it? Now let’s add chewing gum.
    How does that two percent rise in nitrogen and sediment fit into those millions of lost pounds?
    The “slight increase,” the Bay Program report notes, “is due in part to a short-term shift in agricultural commodities.” Higher prices for corn spurred in large measure by ethanol meant more corn was planted. Corn craves “nitrogen-rich fertilizer that can leach off the ground and into local waterways.”
    Find the full report — including methodology — at chesapeakebay.net/presscenter/release/22587.
    If you’ve managed to walk while chewing gum, you’ll have figured out that you’ve got a part to play in reducing the Bay’s junk food diet.
    Hence our next truism: Put your money where your mouth is.
    To get the Bay to it best nutritional balance, that’s what we’ve all got to do. The Flush Tax is reducing nitrogen from our plumbing in water purification plants and septic systems. But given the resistance to controlling our stormwater runoff — with its junk-food load of nitrogen and sediment — you’d think robbers were knocking at the door.
    That paranoia helped elect Gov. Larry Hogan and Anne Arundel County Executive Steve Schuh. Now it’s feeding revision of laws already passed in the General Assembly and in the Anne Arundel County Council. On April 6, the council upheld the fee (lacking a better alternative) and principle of putting our money where our protestations are.
    Calvert citizens, you can keep your money. This fee is special to your 10 biggest neighbors. (On the other hand, they’ve got curbside county pickup of trash and recycling.)
    At the same time, newly agreed on Phosphorus Management Tools and timelines will help cut down on animal manure reaching the Bay from farm fields.
    We lawn growers — turf grass is the largest crop in the Chesapeake watershed — can mind our own fertilizer Ps and Qs. Learn the full story at www.mda.maryland/fertilizer. Consider hiring a pro like Blades of Green (who described the right way in last week’s Home and Garden Guide) to do a lawn-friendly and Bay-saving job.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; editor@bayweekly.com