ANNAPOLIS – The drought may have actually helped the Chesapeake Bay improve its health this year – but it’s only a temporary fix, according to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, which released its annual State of the Bay report Tuesday.
“Were it not for the drought, these numbers would be lower,” said foundation President William Baker, referring to the grades given to various aspects of the bay’s health.
A lack of rain this year reduced the amount of farm runoff containing chemical pollutants. Agriculture is responsible for more nitrogen pollution in the bay than any other source, the foundation said.
The state of the bay is stalled at a level that is “a failure in any book,” Baker said. With a score of 27 – the same as last year – on a scale of 0 to 100, “we’ve got a long way to go.”
The report grades 13 factors of bay health — habitat, fishery and water quality — and the total health score is the average of all the grades.
Only four of the 13 grades actually showed improvement over last year, and three of those – water clarity, nitrogen and phosphorus pollution – were related to the drought.
So the improvement is no more than “fool’s gold,” Baker said.
The only score reflecting progress is the shad population, which the report attributes to “encouraging spawning runs” and efforts to open passages for migratory fish.
Other fisheries – rockfish and oysters – showed no change from 2001, and the blue crab fishery dropped two points to 40 because of heavy fishing and losses in its underwater grasses habitat.
The Chesapeake Bay has been on the Environmental Protection Agency’s “impaired waters” – also known as “dirty waters” – list since 1998. If the bay cannot meet certain water quality standards by 2010, then the federal government is required under the Clean Water Act to take over bay management.
Gov. Parris Glendening has moved to improve bay health by creating “buffer zones” around the bay to reduce erosion and initiating legislation to provide farmers with resources to help them reduce agricultural runoff.
“Maryland has been a leader in using technologies to reduce nutrient pollution from sewage treatment plants,” said John Surrick, spokesman for the Department of Natural Resources. Sewage treatment is not the only or best way to reduce nutrient pollution, he said, and the department is continuing to look at new technologies.
“Gov. Glendening has, all through his administration, been a leader in working to improve the Chesapeake Bay . . . and I think that he will continue to do so until the end of his term,” Surrick said.
The foundation’s score of 100 represents the Chesapeake Bay encountered by Captain John Smith four centuries ago – clear and healthy waters and shorelines, inestimably rich in wildlife — a pristine state that it can never reach again, the foundation said.
The bay hit bottom with a score of 23 in 1983, and has not risen above 28 since then. The foundation aims to reach 40 by 2010, to get off the dirty waters list, and 70 by 2050.
Bureaucracy has stalled progress, the foundation said. The bay needs $20 billion over the next 10 years from federal, state and local governments.
The amount is reasonable, Baker said, for a natural resource that pumps more than $680 billion a year into the economies of Maryland and Virginia.
The report calls on the government to pay for sewage treatment plant upgrades and to provide more support to farmers for chemical runoff reduction.
The goal is to reduce by half the nitrogen pollutants entering the bay every year to 150 million pounds by 2010. The last 17 years have brought only a 17 percent decrease.
“Words on paper will not save the Chesapeake Bay,” Baker said. “We’ve got to ask, where’s the beef? Government has got to put its money where its mouth is.” – 30 – CNS-10-15-02 –