Chesapeake Outdoors By C.D. Dollar
Vol. 9, No. 43
October 25-31, 2001
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Bay Takes a Turn for the Worse

Looking into the waters of Dundee Creek — filtered gin-clear by the massive stands of wild celery, milfoil and other underwater grass species — my mind fast-forwarded past the largemouth bass fingerlings six inches from my face to the year 2010. In this vision I saw a Bay where dense meadows of underwater grass grew in the Bay’s shallows, hosting abundant crabs and fish that sought shelter and food among the tangles of these densely packed aquatic gardens. Oxygen-rich water was clear enough to see at least six feet down year round.

In this daydream, I wafted high above the watershed and with eagle eyes I took in large tracts of forests, farmland and wetlands preserved and restored to help filter polluted runoff and offer habitat to the hundreds of plants and animals that make their home alongside us. Fewer and cleaner-burning cars were on the road, and every major sewage plant had state-of-the-art nitrogen removal technology.

But after reviewing the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s 2001 State of the Bay Report, my vision of a healthier Bay, shared by millions of people across watershed, became cloudy, sadly resembling the algae- and sediment-choked waters of today that have earned our national treasure a place of dishonor on the EPA’s list of impaired waters.

According to the Foundation’s report, it’s more of the same — poor water quality from nutrient and sediment pollution, accelerated land development and an unstable crab population — that dropped the health index from 28 out of 100 (100 being the pristine Bay of Capt. John Smith’s era) in 2000 to 27 this year. This year’s decline marked the first backward step since the Foundation began issuing the annual report in 1998.

“Unless we dramatically reduce nutrient and sediment pollution, additional gains in underwater grasses will be impossible. Restoring underwater grasses by improving water quality is critical to bringing back the Bay’s blue crab population,” said CBF President William C. Baker.

We continue to hear warnings that the Bay system remains dangerously out of balance from other experts, as well. Maryland crabbers suffered through another horrendous season, one of the worst on record, prompting the Department of Natural Resources to schedule three public meetings to discuss options for new restrictions next season. It is unclear what shape these new rules might take, but as DNR Secretary Chuck Fox said, “the scientific evidence clearly demonstrates the need to reduce fishing effort” to protect blue crabs for future generations.

The decline in Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s health index underscores the urgency to ramp up efforts to meet the goals of the new Bay Agreement signed in June 2000. Sure, it’s a tough road ahead, but we can’t remain stuck in neutral or, worse, reverse. And reining in nutrient pollution is the fastest path to finding our way out of the mess we’ve made of our Bay.

Two of the most effective initiatives before Congress would significantly reduce nutrient pollution from sewage treatment plants and agriculture. Installing nutrient-removal technology in the watershed’s 288 major wastewater treatment facilities would take out an estimated 50 million pounds of harmful nitrogen and phosphorus annually. That 50 million pounds would help us achieve some 40 percent of all the reductions needed to meet 2010 goals. At the same time, Bay-friendly amendments to the Farm Bill currently before the Senate would appropriate tens of millions of dollars to help farmers not only reduce nutrients flowing from their land but also help stabilize the economic status of Bay-area farmers.

Our watershed’s 10 million acres of cropland contribute about 38 percent of the total nitrogen load that enters the Bay annually. But because agricultural runoff has been reduced by only 10 percent in the past 15 years, more money is needed to help farmers help save the Bay. Farmers and landowners want to do right by the Bay. We should do right by them and pony up.

For a copy of CBF’s State of the Bay Report: 410/268-8816.

Copyright 2001
Bay Weekly