ANNAPOLIS – Maryland is lagging behind other states agreeing to protect land in order to revive the ailing Chesapeake Bay, and if that situation is not corrected it could spell permanent harm for the waterway, according to a report released Tuesday.
Maryland has only protected 14.7 percent of its land in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, the smallest amount of the four jurisdictions signed onto the Chesapeake Bay Agreement 2000. However, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Washington have not met protection targets, either.
If land preservation doesn’t increase, and development proceeds at its current rate, the bay could be ruined by polluted runoff from development, according to report released Tuesday by the Chesapeake Bay Commission and the Trust for Public Land.
“If we don’t accelerate the conservation we will lose the bay,” said the commission chairman, Sen. Brian E. Frosh, D-Montgomery.
Although it’s protected the smallest percentage of land, Maryland has put up almost twice as much money as Virginia and Pennsylvania in land preservation over the past decade. Land in Maryland is more expensive and under more pressure for development than in the other two states.
If funding trends continue, the jurisdictions will be able to conserve about 500,000 more acres by 2010, less than half of the 1.1 million acres needed to reach the overall goal of protecting 20 percent of all land in the watershed.
Reaching the goal may require almost $2 billion increase in spending over the next 10 years, according to the report.
“The only way to save the bay is to couple Smart Growth with land preservation and nutrient reduction programs,” said Ann Pesiri Swanson, director of the Chesapeake Bay Commission.
Chesapeake 2000 was a pact signed by the three states in the watershed and Washington to employ better land use to clean up the bay.
Maryland, which has already developed 16.14 percent of its total 6.3 million acres, is developing 34,560 acres a year, according to the Chesapeake Bay Commission. At that rate, Maryland would be over 20 percent developed by 2010.
“That’s a lot,” Swanson said. Since 1996, land preservation spending in Maryland has increased steadily, with a jump from $47.7 million to $101.5 million between 1998 and 1999, according to the report.
To meet the report recommendations, Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources estimates it would need to preserve an additional 13,000 acres a year.
The land most critical to preservation is the riparian forests, or the wooded areas near the waterways, said the commission. These provide the “last line of defense,” from sediment and other pollutants entering the bay, according to the commission.
These areas would be targeted by Gov. Parris N. Glendening’s GreenPrint program. GreenPrint is a land preservation program to connect forests and environmentally sensitive areas. Glendening appropriated $145 million for the program over the next four years.
Next year, the budget calls for $40 million for the GreenPrint program, enough to preserve those 13,000 additional acres.
“I think this [report] is a clear demonstration for the need for a program like GreenPrint, and a fully funded GreenPrint,” said Susan O’Brien, Chesapeake Bay Foundation spokeswoman.
However, GreenPrint is not enough to reach the 20 percent goal by 2010, even if the General Assembly doesn’t cut its budget. The program is only scheduled to last four years.
“It’s not going to do it by itself,” said David Burke, director of the Chesapeake and Coastal Watershed Service. “There’s not enough money.”
Local governments and private donors will have to kick in to reach the agreement, Burke said.
“We certainly can’t do it all at the state level,” he said. “It has to come from beyond the state.”