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Satellite Image of Bay After Rain Storm Reveals Sediment Pollution

March 17 2011 bay wide sediment plume-1 If you ever wonder how much of a problem sediment runoff pollution is for the Chesapeake Bay, check out this picture.  This NASA satellite image was taken on March 17 after a heavy downpour. It shows a plume of muddy water extending from the Susquehanna River, at the extreme northern end of the Bay, and flowing far south, almost to the Virginia border. "This heavy Spring runoff has resulted in record low water clarity for the month of March in may areas of Maryland’s portion of the Chesapeake Bay," the Department of Natural Resources reports. The river of murky silt and pollutants in this photo makes a powerful visual argument for smarter land-use policies that minimize suburban sprawl, parking lots and other impervious surfaces; and encourage better stormwater management systems in urban areas; as well as better runoff control practices on fields, such as the planting of buffer strips of trees and grasses to filter streams.  To learn more and see more pictures, visit this Maryland Department of Natural Resources website.

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Man...I had no idea.

This photo shows, quite dramatically, why comprehensive federal regulation is needed to improve the condition of the Chesapeake. That plume of sediment runs virtually the entire length of Maryland's portion of the bay. Yet the photo shows that the sediment is not coming from the Patapsco, or the Patuxent, or the Chester, or the Choptank. It's coming from the Susquehanna--which means it's coming primarily from Pennsylvania. Maryland could enact the most stringent pollution-control laws imaginable, and they would do nothing to protect Maryland's waters from the conditions shown in this photo. An enforceable, watershed-wide approach is needed, and with six states and the District of Columbia in the watershed, such an approach can be managed only at the federal level.

Bravo, CJ! You make a brilliant point. This satellite image explains why EPA's new pollution limits (called the "Total Maximum Daily Load") for the Bay are critical, and why efforts by Farm Bureau lobbyists and their allies in the U.S. House to kill these pollution limits are destructive.

Tom - The Watershed Implementation Plans that EPA is requiring from all Bay states incorporate 4 major sectors towards the polution "diet": agriculture, wastewater treatment, septic systems (nitrgoen removal)& stormwater runoff. The one major issue that Farm Bureau has with the situation is the invalid or incorrect data used within the Chesapeake Bay Model. It is my understanding that MD Dept of Ag is assisting local Soil Conservation Districts with providing the correct/updated information. Please do not insinuate that farmers want to polluate the Bay.

Very interesting picture. Was the rain event isolated to the piedmont of VA, MD and PA, or did the same rainfall occur in the coastal plain? If the event occurred over the entire area, then wow, very little sediment from the most intensively farmed area of the state (eastern shore). There is very little sediment visible in the Nanticoke, Wicomico, and Choptank Rivers.

Can you send this to Congressman Goodlatte (6th District VA) who does not think EPA should be worried about cleaning up the Bay?

Tom,
Of course this has nothing to do with development and everything to do with those careless farmers. Trace that sediment laden water and you will find the vast majority of it results from the effects of development runoff. I will be the first to say that there are farmers who do not implement best management practices for the bay, but let's weigh things carefully.
In 1950, 8.4 million people lived in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. At the end of 2010, the number was over 17 million. Recent census data shows our watershed population growing by about 500 persons per day! So how many acres of farmland and forests, which absorb and slow rainwater, were lost to development in that period of time?
In 1976 I opened an ice cream store on the City Dock in Annapolis. The water there was clear enough to see large numbers of crabs and fish swimming around. Back then, every year or two we would get a rain combined with a strong south wind that would cause the water level to rise in the street.
Now, you will not see crabs or fish in that same water, and rain runoff into the Bay causes Dock Street to flood no less than 30 times a year. I had to close my business 8 times last year when the water levels came into my shop. Simply put, the Bay can no longer drain fast enough to keep up with development runoff.
I hate to be a pessimist but the Chesapeake Bay will never return to its 1950 or 1970 condition. Sadly, it won’t return to its 2010 condition. In Baltimore alone, a one inch rain rinses off that city’s filth and results in over 1.2 billion gallons swiftly draining (untreated) into the Bay. The damage we have already done is irreversible because the integrity and conviction needed to recognize and correct the main problem, does not exist in significant enough amounts.
I'll take farms and forests over developers any day.

If we practice responsible land use, utilize stormwater systems, and practice planting more trees, siltation and sediment pollution would be minimized. And if we control such occurrences, we can easily cleanse our bodies of water for safer use.

cool comments my dudes

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