HEALTH OF THE BAY DECLINES THIS YEAR
State of the Bay Report Finds No Improvements in Any Category
Video: CBF President Will Baker speaks about the declining health of the Bay.
(ANNAPOLIS, MD) -- With just three years to go before the court-ordered deadline to remove the Chesapeake Bay from the nation’s dirty waters list, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s (CBF) 2007 State of the Bay report finds the health of the Bay going in the wrong direction. This year’s health index dropped one point to 28, far from our goal of 40 by 2010, and an unacceptable “D” grade.
“Time is running out, and the Chesapeake Bay, a national treasure, remains in critical condition,” said CBF President William C. Baker. “Restoring the Bay is not rocket science. What does it say about a society when we can put a man on the moon but not be able to save the Chesapeake Bay?”
The annual State of the Bay report, which CBF first issued in 1998, is a comprehensive measure of the Bay's health. For the report, CBF evaluates 13 indicators: oysters, shad, crabs, striped bass (rockfish), underwater grasses, wetlands, forested buffers, resource lands, toxics, water clarity, dissolved oxygen, and phosphorus and nitrogen pollution. CBF scientists compile and examine the best available historical and up-to-date information for each indicator and assign it an index score and letter grade. Taken together, these indicators offer an assessment of Bay health.
The unspoiled Bay ecosystem described by Captain John Smith in the 1600s, with its extensive forests and wetlands, clear water, abundant fish and oysters, and lush growths of submerged vegetation serves as the benchmark, and would rate a 100 on CBF's scale.
This year’s decline was the result of increased phosphorus pollution, decreased water clarity, and habitat and harvest pressures that continue to depress the Bay’s blue crab population. Blue crab harvests this year are expected to be among the lowest since the 1940s.
In the Chesapeake 2000 Agreement, the Bay states and federal government committed to reducing pollution sufficiently to remove the Bay from the nation’s “dirty waters list” by 2010. Bay scientists have said that to do that, nitrogen pollution must be reduced by 110 million pounds. As of 2006, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated that restoration efforts have achieved only 18 percent of the goal, with 91 million pounds left to go.
“For the last 20 years, the Bay restoration record has been littered with deadlines missed and actions not taken,” Baker said. “Today, our elected leaders have a clear choice--accelerate their recent investments or revert to politics of postponement.”
In addition to the 19 million pound reduction in nitrogen pollution achieved, CBF estimates that with current programs and investments in place for reducing air pollution, upgrading sewage treatment plants, and controlling agricultural runoff, there are approximately 41 million additional pounds of reduction in-the-pipeline.
CBF is calling on our elected leaders to publicly announce timetables for the programs they will implement to complete their commitments. CBF suggests that the next priorities should be upgrading the Blue Plains sewage treatment plant and completing targeted farm conservation plans, which would reduce approximately 37 million pounds more nitrogen pollution. The remaining 13 million pounds should be accomplished through better control of stormwater.
Stormwater permits must include pollution limits and monitoring requirements. Adding requirements for green roof construction and retrofits, consistent and thorough street sweeping, and other pollution reduction practices could finish closing the gap.
In each of the three states the governors and general assemblies have worked together to pass important funding initiatives, but there is more work to be done. At the federal level, the Bush Administration has turned its back on the Bay. For example, EPA issued regulations that allow coal fired power plants to continue spewing mercury that contaminates fish, and nitrogen that degrades water quality.
There is one positive note at the federal level, the region’s congressional delegation has supported a 2007 federal Farm Bill that would provide an unprecedented amount of conservation funding critical to the health of local farms and water quality in rivers, streams, and the Chesapeake Bay. Unfortunately the legislation is mired in gridlock on the Senate floor for the last three weeks. Prospects for action this month are unclear.
“Clean water is a right, not a luxury. The plans to save the Bay have been written. They are known as ‘The Tributary Strategies.’ They must be implemented,” Baker said.
To read the full report and learn more, visit cbf.org/stateofthebay.