Sunday, April 14, 2024

Report: Current Efforts to Reduce Chesapeake Pollution Will Not Meet Water Quality Goals

(The Chesapeake Bay Program)

ANNAPOLIS— Reducing the amount of pollution entering the Chesapeake Bay and improving its water quality is proving to be more challenging than anticipated, according to a new report released by the Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee (STAC) for the Chesapeake Bay Program.

The STAC, an independent entity that provides scientific and technical advice to the Chesapeake Bay Program, has spent the past four years evaluating reasons as to why achieving both the goals of the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (Bay TMDL) and water quality standards for the Chesapeake Bay has been slower than anticipated. The report also offers suggestions on how progress can be accelerated moving forward.

While significant progress has been made in addressing nutrient and sediment pollution since the signing of the first Chesapeake Bay Agreement in 1983, modeling and monitoring indicate that current efforts to reduce nutrient pollution entering the Chesapeake will not meet Bay TMDL goals. In addition, water quality conditions in many regions of the estuary have been slow to respond to restoration efforts.

While there has been great success in reducing pollution from point sources, findings indicate that actions taken to reduce pollution from non-point sources, such as farms or developed lands, are insufficient to achieve pollutant reduction goals. Runoff from urban stormwater and agriculture are the largest sources of nutrient pollution entering the Bay.

The implementation of best management practices (BMPs) on agricultural lands have prevented a significant increase in pollution, however, data indicates that these efforts are not as effective as expected.

(The Chesapeake Bay Program)

“This report set out to focus a tremendous amount of scientific expertise to synthesize what the science is telling us about how people, pollutant processes and the estuary is responding to water quality improvement efforts,” said Dr. Kurt Stephenson, a professor in the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics at Virginia Tech. “Moving the needle on improving Bay water quality will require more than just money and effort—it will require new approaches to implementation. We hope this report provides the Chesapeake Bay Program with ideas on how to improve nonpoint source programs and increase the potential of water quality management to improve living resources.”

Findings also indicate that the abundance and diversity of the Bay’s plant and animal species are not solely dependent on water quality standards, but rather will be impacted by a variety of future conditions. These conditions include but are not limited to, disease, water temperature and salinity levels, commercial and recreational harvests, and nearshore habitat (e.g., wetlands, shorelines). These factors make it difficult to ascertain the impact of water quality changes on the Bay’s living resources.

Ongoing changes to the Bay’s ecosystem—including land use changes, population growth, climate change and economic development—will require us to think differently about what constitutes a “restored” Bay.

“The Chesapeake Bay and its surrounding watershed are critical to the livelihood of all its 18 million residents, and changes in land use, population growth, economic development and climate change mean that its past conditions cannot be recreated; the Bay of the future will not be the same as the Bay of the past,” said Denice Wardrop, a research professor of geography at Penn State and executive secretary of STAC. “However, significant opportunities exist to improve the effectiveness of our actions, achieving a Bay of equal vitality by building on the significant learnings of the past.”

The Chesapeake Bay Program is a regional partnership working to meet the goals and outcomes of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement.

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