Vol. 9, No. 25
June 21-27, 2001
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Thinking Big (Bucks) While Fighting Chesapeake's Silent Killer

Ever shifted your car, or your boat, into gear, and you didn't move forward? Instead, you just sat there revving and wondering what's wrong.

That's where we are at this moment in the fight to stem the flow of nitrogen pollution into the Bay. Our regional alliance of states came up way short in the battle to cut the nitrogen flow by 40 percent by 2000.

Nitrogen and its partner in crime, phosphorous, are silent killers. They're sneaky, not as easy to corral as the smelly toxics flowing from the pipes of plants. Nitrogen is everywhere, a by-product of civilization. Bet you didn't know that we've doubled the amount of nitrogen on the planet in the last several decades.

It flows into the Bay from Eastern Shore poultry farms, whose operators have persisted in the misguided practice of spraying poultry manure on the same land over and over as 'fertilizer.' Now, we're glad to report, the Maryland Manure Transport Project is beginning to redirect that fertilizer to needier soils.

It pours from Bayside septic systems that, truth be told, are not systems at all but little more than pipes connecting toilets to yards to the Bay.

It rushes into the Chesapeake from lawns and gardens whose owners load up their land with miracle-growing concoctions, hoping for lawns as green as the White House and ripe tomatoes by the Fourth of July. Read the label on those boxes sometime.

And it dumps into the Bay from municipal sewage treatment plants operated by communities unwilling or unable to spend taxpayers' money on nitrogen removal equipment. Fewer than one in four plants has the capability of removing nitrogen and phosphorous.

Then these 'supernutrients' begin to destroy, creating algae and sucking up the oxygen needed by Bay grasses, which in turn are needed for the aquatic life - including our disappearing crabs - and a healthy ecosystem.

It's a huge problem that needs aggressive attention, and that's why Marylanders should hop on board new legislation introduced in Congress last week proposing a regional spending solution.

Maryland's senators, Paul Sarbanes and Barbara Mikulski, are co-sponsors of legislation requesting $660 million to provide sewage treatment plants in Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware, West Virginia and the District of Columbia with 55 percent of the costs of nitrogen removal systems.

Sounds like a lot of money but we shouldn't get sticker shock at the cost of cleaning up cherished resources that mean so much to our economy. After all, governments are spending $8 billion to begin restoring the Florida Everglades and $3 billion to save salmon in the Northwest.

In Congress, the fight for environmental moneys pits region against region, which is why, with the added muscle of states in the Bay watershed, Maryland's delegation stands a better chance in the coming fray.

The anti-nitrogen legislation is the Chesapeake Bay legislation for 2001. We should embrace it, watch its progress and let our senators know that we will not let the matter rest with their feel-good press releases.

Copyright 2001
Bay Weekly