The Bay: Improving, Yes, but Too Slowly

Environmental clean-up efforts in the Chesapeake Bay are making slow progress, concludes the Chesapeake Bay 2006 Health and Restoration Assessment, but improvements are coming slower than expected.

The encouraging news:

Nutrient discharge: Nitrogen discharges from wastewater treatment plants are at 72 percent of the reduction goal; phosphorous discharges from wastewater treatment plants have reached 87 percent of reduction goals.

Watershed protection: Since 1990, blockages to 2,144 miles of rivers and streams have been removed for migratory fish. Watershed land preservation has set aside 6.83 million acres of land, 99 percent of goals. A forest buffer restoration goal of 2,010 miles was reached well ahead of schedule; as of 2006 53 percent of the new 10,000-mile goal has been achieved.

The bad news: Population growth and development continues to pose a challenge. States the assessment:

It is estimated that increases in pollution due to development have surpassed the gains achieved to date from improved landscape design and stormwater management practices. The rapid rate of population growth and related residential and commercial development means that this is the only pollution sector in the Bay watershed that is still growing; thus, “progress” is negative.

The really bad news

. Habitat, water quality and fishery indicators have been slow to respond to the incremental improvements in nutrient and pollution discharges.

The Bay’s habitats and lower food webs are at about one-third of desired levels. Improvement in bottom habitat was stagnant: only 41 percent of the Bay’s floor was considered healthy. Acreage of critical underwater grasses decreased by 25 percent, to the lowest level since 1989. Mid-channel water quality deteriorated slightly, while chemical contaminants in fish tissue remains unacceptably high. Oyster and shad populations remain at a fraction of restoration levels.

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3 responses to “The Bay: Improving, Yes, but Too Slowly”

  1. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I’m confused as usual.

    “Nitrogen/phosphorous discharges” .. are approaching the designated goals.

    .. but …

    “Population growth and development …. resulting in increases in pollution”

    so which is it?

    Are we seeing a NET reduction in pollution or a NET increase in pollution and if it is a NET INCREASE and it is not nitrogen and phosphorous what pollution is it?

    This is the problem I have with these reports…

    What exactly is it that we should be refocusing our efforts on… to answer the downhill degradation?

    My theory is that is is no longer about sewage treatement plants but about storm water runoff from development.

    They still are going to upgrade the sewage treatement plants to the practical limits of technology in the meantime but clearly doing this is not going to solve the relentless degradation – is it?

    So I ask again.. if we want to galvanize the public – to ring the clarion bell.. to get us all tuned in to exactly what we as individuals should do and what policies we should support – to Save the Bay – what are they?

    It’s frustrating to me and I suspect to others when we have this very public hand-wringing process – and we are yet, left with very unclear ideas of what specific actions need to be taken.. and what we – as individuals can and should do.


  2. Anonymous Avatar

    My 2 cents (oversimplified due to my simple mind, but at least it’s a start):

    Nutrients from wastewater plants cause one type of problem: algal blooms.

    Development replaces grassland and forests with “developed” land (i.e., concrete). So there is less capacity for absorbing rainwater into the ground; instead of rainwater being absorbed into the ground ending up in rivers and the bay as part of the groundwater, it ends up as runoff that is unfiltered and carries with it surface pollutants (oil from roads, fertilizer on the surface, etc.). So runoff becomes its own source of pollution.

    Runoff also contributes silt (sediment) to the rivers, often seen in satellite images as the “red streaks” entering rivers. Silt covers the sandy bottom and forms a thick spongy type layer of “gunk” that can choke oysters (filter feeders) and surface and underwater bay grasses (important for generating oxygen, slowing down water flow and erosion, and providing a habitat for little critters like crabs and small fish). Silt (sediment) suspended in the water also clouds the water, reducing the sunlight that can reach underwater grasses.

    Hope this helps

  3. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I agree completely that runoff at issue.

    It is what is in the runoff that is killing the Bay.

    My frustration is our collective lack of providing the data to the public in a way that they can clearly understand the choices that we face.

    We want “Smart Growth” but we don’t talk about the implications of Smart Growth with respect to runoff – which is a pivotal concern because that kind of growth advocates intensive infrastructure .. especially and inevitably impervious surfaces.

    We advocate smart growth – to conserve resources but we don’t acknowledge that building denser also present us with the issues of degradating the same resources we advocate conserving.

    Tough issues? Yes.. emphatically so.

    We do not have a cogent, focused policy with regard to the Bay and the environment in general and that is why we end up with .. essentially conflicting and confusing advococies that .. I believe do not end up galvanizing the public to do specific strategies that each of us has a role in.

    Instead.. we end up with a feel good “green” buffet that each of us decides is our way of “helping”.

    Meanwhile the Bay goes to hell in a handbasket.

    Am I making any sense here?

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