Those are some of the major science and policy issues that local, state and federal officials are grappling with as they take stock of where Chesapeake Bay cleanup efforts stand with the halfway mark approaching in the agreed-upon timetable for reaching restoration goals.But, being the Bay Program, they managed to take the urban centers off the hook and blame the farmers.
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Since 2010, nutrient and sediment levels reaching the Bay have fallen. Wastewater treatment plants are proving to be capable of removing more nutrients than earlier thought, and states are slowly ramping up programs to control stormwater and agricultural runoff.
But the most recent data released by the EPA in April show that the region will almost certainly miss its 2017 nitrogen interim target, and is not on pace to meet sediment goals.
Further, many shortfalls are in critical places. About 75 percent of the nitrogen reductions since the TMDL was imposed have come from wastewater plants, which disproportionately benefits Western Shore tributaries. That has improved local water quality conditions and helped spur the comeback of underwater grasses in places like the Potomac River.And yet, the Bay adjacent to the agricultural lands is still cleaner than the Bay adjacent to the urban centers.
But the Eastern Shore and Susquehanna River have the greatest influence on the oxygen-starved deep waters of the Upper Bay — the area that has the greatest difficulty in attaining water quality standards. Wastewater is a relatively small contributor to the nutrient pollution coming from those areas.