How Pennsylvania Farmers Can Help the Chesapeake Bay Raise Its “C” Grade

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"Thank you Maryland. I can see and breathe a bit better." A happier Maryland Blue Crab
“Thank you Maryland. I can see and breathe a bit better.” Signed, a happier Maryland Blue Crab

It’s report card time for The Chesapeake Bay, and the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science team gave the Bay a “C” score.  While a 53 percent isn’t generally a time for high-fives, this year’s score is the third highest since 1985, the year earnest Bay clean up efforts began.  This year’s score is pretty important because 2015 was a fairly normal rain year. Both 1992 and 2002 scores were higher because of severe droughts. 

Though report card scores were a bit higher in 1992 and 2002, both were severe drought years with little pollution runoff.
Though 2015 Chesapeake Bay Report Card scores were a bit higher in 1992 and 2002, both were severe drought years with little pollution runoff.

What’s encouraging about the 2015 Bay Report Card is that the Bay’s natural ecosystems -water clarity, sea grasses, blue crabs and chlorophyll – are improving because their habitats are less polluted. 

“We know why the Bay became degraded and what we need to do to restore it. This report card shows what’s possible when we take action,” said Donald Boesch, president of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. “The positive results give us confidence that even greater improvements will be realized if pollutant loads are further reduced as committed.”

And take action is what Maryland has done. Take a look at the graph below and see the 2004 flush fee’s $1+ billion in action with Maryland’s sewage treatment plant upgrades. Agriculture has taken steps to plant winter crop cover to soak up excess fertilizer and not over fertilize farmlands. A continued issue to fix is urban stormwater pollution.

Urban stormwater runoff pollution continues to grow.

While it’s positive that the Bay’s grades continue to inch up as pollutants drop, Ben Alexandro, a Water Policy Advocate at the Maryland League of Conservation Voters added, “We’re working toward an “A”. We need to keep on, keeping on with stormwater projects and maintaining the pace to continue reducing our pollution levels. Our local streams win, the Bay wins, and so do Marylanders. Developing stormwater infrastructure brings family-sustaining jobs in to Maryland.”  Alexandro also leads the Choose Clean Water Coalition, an active consortium of pretty much every water policy group and nonprofit in the watershed.

To understand the Chesapeake Bay’s overall clean up progress, it’s important to look at results from all seven jurisdictions that impact the Chesapeake Bay: Maryland, D.C., Delaware, New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Virginia.

As the chart below illustrates, there is a 600-pound catfish in the room: Pennsylvania’s agriculture sector. 

Pennsylvania's pollution accounts for 80 percent of missed 2017 nitrogen pollution goal.
Pennsylvania’s pollution accounts for 80 percent of missed 2017 nitrogen pollution goal. SOURCE: http://www.chesapeakeprogress.com/clean-water/water-quality/watershed-implementation-plans

Kim Coble, Vice President of Environmental Protection and Restoration at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation explains, “The goal was to reduce the Chesapeake Bay’s nitrogen pollution by 45 million pounds by 2017. As of today, we still have 29 million pounds to go to hit that interim goal. Pennsylvania’s portion of that missed target is 23 million pounds, and 80 percent, or 19 million pounds, is due to agricultural pollution runoff.  Programs that focus on helping the state’s small farmers will move the needle.” 

Laurel Peltier
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Laurel Peltier

Laurel writes the environmental GreenLaurel column every Thursday in the Baltimore Fishbowl. A graduate of UVA's MBA program, she spends her time with her family and making "all things green" interesting.
Laurel Peltier
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