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May 4, 2011

Scientists question bay cleanup tracking

The long-running Chesapeake Bay cleanup remains plagued by uneven efforts to track and verify pollution reductions, particularly from farmland, according to an independent review.
In a report released today, a nine-member panel of scientists with the National Research Council finds that while Maryland and other states have boosted their pollution control efforts, they’re not gathering enough information to tell how much progress they're making, especially those aimed at reducing farm runoff, a major source of the degraded estuary’s water quality woes.

The review comes as Maryland and other states grapple with the requirements of a new “pollution diet” imposed by EPA requiring substantial reductions in nutrient and sediment pollution throughout the six-state bay watershed. The American Farm Bureau has filed suit challenging the EPA plan, and local and state officials in parts of the region have complained about its costs and scientific basis.

An independent scientific assessment of the bay cleanup effort was requested two years ago after the states and EPA missed another in a series of deadlines, and a federal audit faulted the largely voluntary restoration campaign for exaggerating claims of success.  At that time, the region’s governors and federal officials vowed to accelerate their efforts and hold themselves more accountable, setting cleanup “milestones” to be reached every two years.

The scientific panel said that while setting short-term goals for the restoration should help, progress is still in doubt, in part because of inconsistent tracking and verifying of farm pollution measures. States have not accounted for controls put in place without government financial assistance, the report notes, but they also have not determined how lasting or effective have been many of the “best management practices” farmers have adopted.

As a result, the researchers said they were unable to determine the reliability or accuracy of runoff reductions reported by the states.

More generally, the report says, nearly all the states lack sufficient information to properly evaluate their progress in reducing nutrient and sediment pollution, the report says.  Their ability to make mid-course corrections is hampered as a result, the scientists warn, and policy makers and the public are likely to get an incomplete and possibly inaccurate sense of how much progress is being made to restore the bay.

The review warns that after centuries of pollution it may take years, if not decades, for water quality to improve significantly, and it urges officials to be more upfront with the public about the probability of delayed results, or risk loss of public and political support for the cleanup.

The report urges creation of a new laboratory to improve the computer modeling of the bay on which EPA’s controversial pollution diet was based.   It also recommends trying new approaches to managing animal manure on farms, curbing lawn fertilizer use and further reducing air pollution that contributes to the bay’s water problems.  

It even calls for states and the federal government to promote greater individual responsibility for reducing bay pollution, including encouraging people to reduce their consumption of meat.

Ann P. Swanson, executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, representing lawmakers from Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia, said the independent review confirms for her that the states are on the right track in setting a series of two-year interim goals to keep them working toward an ultimate cleanup deadline in 2025.  She also noted that the scientists had warned the bay's restoration may never be realized unless cleanup efforts are adjusted to take into account the region's population growth, development patterns and the effects of climate change.

To read the full report, click <a xhref="" target=new>here. </a>

Baltimore Sun file photo

Posted by Kim Walker at 11:00 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Chesapeake Bay


I was all for this. I was going to write "Hey the farmers made the mess now they are complaining? Let them do what they are told." HOWEVER that was before I got to the part where I need to actually do something, like eat less meat. Sorry Chesapeake Bay, you gotta GO!! Can you say "bacon double cheeseburger to go!!"


I doubt you'll be laughing so loud when you cant get any local seafood from the rapidly dieing bay, or when storm surges and noreasters rip out your favorite waterside locations because the bay cant work like it used to, when the you cant go within a mile of the inner harbor or shore because of all the dead and rotting fish and vegetation that come with sediment and nutrient driven deadzones. It wont be so funny when even touching the water means you can contract deadly infections or be poisoned by harmeful algea blooms.

Eating a single burger is not a big deal...but the effects are real...and joking about it wont make it go away.

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About the bloggers
Tim WheelerTim Wheeler reports on the environment and Chesapeake Bay. A native of West Virginia, he has focused mainly on Maryland's environment since moving here in 1983. Along the way, he's crewed aboard a skipjack in the bay, canoed under city streets up the Jones Fall from the Inner Harbor, and gone deep underground in a western Maryland coal mine. He loves seafood, rambles in the country and good stories. He hopes to share some here.

Contributor Christy Zuccarini has been blogging about the local DIY craft scene for a year for She brings her pespective on all things handmade to B'More Green, where she will highlight projects you can do yourself as well as crafters who are integrating sustainable methods and materials.

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