Bay Needs More Work and MONITORING

Report: Bay cleanup shows promise; more work and monitoring ahead

  • Stormwater runoff

File photo

Stormwater runoff

Polluted stormwater runoff — such as this sediment-laden water in Annapolis — is a vexing problem for the Chesapeake Bay. A report released Tuesday says several programs to clean the bay are working but more work needs to be done to reduce stormwater runoff.

Posted: Wednesday, February 26, 2014 9:00 am | Updated: 12:11 pm, Wed Feb 26, 2014.

By E.B. FURGURSON III pfurgurson

Data gleaned from scores of scientific studies indicate elements of the Chesapeake Bay cleanup plan are working.

A report issued Tuesday showed efforts over the past 30 years have reduced pollution, lowered nutrients and slowed sediment in local waterways but more vigilance, hard work and monitoring lies ahead.

That was a primary conclusion of “New Insights: Science-based evidence of water quality improvements, challenges and opportunities in the Chesapeake” which compiled data under the auspices of the Chesapeake Bay Program and its partners the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science and the U.S. Geological Survey.

Those who produced the report over a four-year period hope it will be a useful tool for the public and bay cleanup decision-makers. The public can learn what the considerable bay restoration expenditures have accomplished and managers can see which techniques provide the most promise in particular situations.

The report concluded the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act and reductions in agricultural runoff are all working to improve water quality in the bay and its watershed.

But it also warned that despite those successes, progress could be undermined by not continuing to do the work and not reacting to expected population growth and the development that it will bring. It also cautioned that many efforts suffer a lag time before progress is apparent and that patience is required.

“We have learned the local actions can have positive impacts on water quality, “ said Nick DiPasquale, director of the Chesapeake Bay Program at the report’s release in Annapolis Tuesday. “We are building nature’s resilience back into the bay ecosystem. (The report) is confirmation it can be done. Now we need to refocus and redouble our efforts — in more places, in more ways and with increased dedication.”

Among the primary results:

  • Improvements to wastewater treatment plants have decreased the amount of excess nutrients being dumped into local waters. In some areas that has led to a resurgence in underwater grasses.
  • Reducing nitrogen spewing into the atmosphere from vehicles and power plants under the Clean Air Act have led to less pollution in streams and the bay.
  • Checking nutrient pollution from agricultural runoff through cover crops, managing fertilizer and manure application can reduce nutrients in waterways.

A major component just getting underway is stormwater pollution control to curb nitrogen, phosphorous and sediment pollution. There are techniques beginning to be applied to correct years of unchecked stormwater runoff in many older urban and newer suburban areas of the 64,000 square-mile watershed, home to 17 million people.

“We are not seeing much intensity in stormwater practices out there yet,” said Rich Batuik, the bay program’s associate director for science.

Evidence in one Anne Arundel study included in the report showed mixed results reducing nitrogen in certain stream restoration designs, but good reductions in sediment, which carries phosphorous.

Continued scientific monitoring of new techniques and theories used in the struggle to mend the bay is vital, the report stressed.

If a method is shown not to work, then adjustments can be made and lessons can be learned.

“The study is checking reality. We have this blueprint for the bay. But to see it as a perfect thing that will lead us to Valhalla is nonsense,” said John Boesch, president of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. He said with this study and future monitoring, “We can see where things are not happening and understand why.”

“Some practices work better than others,” bay program spokesman Margaret Enloe said. “The location of a stream, or a restoration effort makes a difference. It seems everyone wants a simple solution to a very complex problem.”

© 2014 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

About Bruce

Work for sustainable development of small islands and the Chesapeake Bay; ex-Peace Corps (Volunteer and staff) in LA & Caribbean; cruised Caribbean on S/Y Meander for three years; like small tropical islands, French canals, Umbria, Tasmania, and NZ. Married 52 years to the late Kincey Burdett Potter (see President of the now-sunsetting Island Resources Foundation.
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