Monday, June 17, 2024

Tell It Brother!

Annapolis Capital Gazette, Gerald Winegrad: Chesapeake Bay restoration is a house of cards after 40 years and $10 billion 

Despite 40 years of formal efforts to restore the Chesapeake Bay and more than $10 billion spent, the hard reality of failure is smacking us in the face. The Chesapeake’s water quality has hardly improved since the first Bay Agreement in December 1983.

During the last four decades, newer Bay Agreements were signed in 1987 and 2000, dictating specific reductions in the bay’s main pollutants — nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment. Deadlines were set for each state of 2000 and then, 2010.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ran the Bay Program that was established and funded in 1984. But it did nothing to enforce the Clean Water Act (CWA) by imposing sanctions on the recalcitrant states when they did not perform the actions the states agreed upon to achieve these pollution reductions.

The most important measurement of success is a simple calculation of whether the bay’s waters have attained CWA basic requirements. In 1985, 73.5% of the bay’s waters were so polluted by excess nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) and sediment that they were “impaired.”

Bay states were violating the CWA by allowing excessive amounts of nutrients and sediment to flow into and pollute the bay’s waters. The law requires that 100% of bay waters meet legal water quality requirements so as to be unimpaired.

And yet 71.9% of the Chesapeake’s tidal waters are still impaired — an improvement of just 1.6% since 1985! This has led to the proliferation of flesh-eating diseases that threaten human life and limbs from water contact, collapsed or collapsing fisheries and the failure to restore critical bay grasses.

The EPA was forced under a federal court settlement in 2010 to establish mandatory pollutant reductions under the CWA to remove the bay’s water from impairment. EPA generously gave the states another 15 years — until 2025 — to achieve these reductions or else face serious sanctions.

A new 2014 Bay Agreement was signed to push progress. But by 2015, the realization set in that nutrient and sediment reductions would not be achieved. The EPA and states refused to initiate new laws and regulations to meet the required reductions.

The $10 billion number is a great underestimate, probably only the direct cost of the federal programs, not counting all the state programs, and the costs imposed on cities, counties, industries, and agriculture, which, no doubt would reach toward $50 billion. All for slight improvement. 

I doubt that Weingrad and I agree on many details, but how about this as an approach going forward. From the Bay Journal, Will a focus on stream health help boost the Chesapeake?

With the Chesapeake region set to miss its 2025 goal for reducing nutrient pollution in the Bay, some are wondering if it’s time to change emphasis. Would an approach focused on tangible improvements in streams like Turtle Creek produce better results — and more farmer cooperation — than focusing on the Chesapeake Bay?

The nonprofit Chesapeake Conservancy has advocated such an approach and, using high-tech data, has worked with local organizations to identify 30 Pennsylvania streams it hopes to delist by 2030, with another 27 slated for the future.

Lancaster County Clean Water partners, a network of organizations working to improve water quality in the Bay region’s most intensive agricultural area, has a goal of restoring 350 of the county’s 1,400 miles of impaired streams.

“This phenomenon is growing,” said Joel Dunn, president of the conservancy. “And it’s a great example for the whole Chesapeake Bay watershed of how to flip the whole effort on its head and make it hyper-local, but [to] deliver results for the whole watershed.”

Indeed, cleanup approaches demonstrating more quantifiable local results got a boost last year when a report from the Bay’s scientific community warned that efforts to control polluted runoff, especially from farms, have been less effective than thought and are unlikely to achieve the water quality goals in the Bay.

Fix the streams first to fix the Bay? Sounds like it might work.

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