This December will mark the 35th anniversary of the original promise by regional leaders to work together to protect the water quality of the Chesapeake Bay — and the fish, crabs and other species that depend upon it.I've seen changes since I arrived in the Chesapeake Bay area in 1985, but they've been fairly minor, and variable. I keep hoping the big change is around the corner, but some days it's hard to keep the hope alive.
More than three decades after it started, the cleanup effort still has a long way to go. In its latest water quality assessment, the state-federal Bay Program partnership found that just 40 percent of the Chesapeake’s tidal waters met agreed-upon goals for clarity, dissolved oxygen and chlorophyll.
That’s the best status report since the cleanup effort began, but still far from attaining water quality standards. So how long will it take to get there?
“Decades,” said Rich Batiuk, the retired associate director for science with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Bay Program Office. “But I think, in another decade or two, we’ll see a different Chesapeake out there.”
Indeed, while it might take decades to meet Baywide water quality goals, people could see a substantially better Chesapeake much sooner — in fact, they are already seeing it. Last year, the Bay’s underwater grass beds exceeded 100,000 acres, a level not reached in decades. Their resurgence demonstrates results from decades of often slow but steady work. But reaching goals for water clarity and oxygen concentrations throughout the Bay will be difficult.
The most recent plan to deliver a clean Bay, the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load or “pollution diet,” sets a 2025 cleanup deadline. But that doesn’t mean the Bay would be “clean” by 2025. The 2025 deadline is for states to implement all of the actions needed to meet water quality standards.
Even if that happens on schedule, there would be substantial delays before the impact of all of those actions would be felt in the Chesapeake. It can take many years for some runoff control practices, like newly planted streamside forest buffers, to become fully effective. And much of the nutrient pollution that enters the Bay and its rivers first travels through slow-moving groundwater.
Management practices such as cover crops can reduce the amount of nitrogen sinking into the groundwater, but it can take years to decades for the “old” groundwater — which predates the use of cover crops and other practices — to work its way out of the system.
During the years it takes for the full impact of those actions to be felt in the Bay, states will have to take even more pollution control actions to offset the impacts of population growth, new development and increasingly intense agricultural operations — just to hold the line on pollution.
Also, the 2025 cleanup deadline does not account for the substantial new efforts that will be needed to offset the filling of the Conowingo Dam reservoir on the Susquehanna River and increased precipitation from climate change — both of which deliver nutrients that were not accounted for when setting the current cleanup goals. At recent rates of nutrient reductions, additional efforts to offset those loads would take at least five more years. And then, as with current efforts, it would take additional time for their full impact to reach the Bay.
Thursday, October 18, 2018
And I Hope for the Better
From the Chesapeake Bay Programs house journal, ‘In another decade or two, we’ll see a different Chesapeake’