This Week in the Watershed

Fish kills are one of the terrible consequences of dead zones. Photo by John Surrick/CBF Staff.

For far too long, dead zones have plagued the Chesapeake Bay every summer. This week it was forecast that this summer's dead zone will be average to slightly below average. At first glance, this might appear to be good news. Upon closer inspection however, the status quo is unacceptable. On what planet is it good news for a body of water the size of 2.3 million Olympic-size swimming pools to exist that chokes all life out of it? Work must continue to reduce pollution and restore water quality in local rivers, streams, and the Chesapeake Bay.

There are many occasions in the fight for clean water when good news needs to be tempered by the reality that much work is left to be done. Two weeks ago, CBF witnessed amazing water clarity in the Severn River, along with an abundance of underwater grasses and active critters. View these signs of progress in this inspiring video:

Just this week however, an algal bloom popped up in the Severn. The work to save the Bay and it's rivers and streams is extremely delicate in nature. But we can take heart that the Bay is showing signs the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint is working. And now is the time to accelerate our efforts. With the support of thousands of Bay-loving individuals across the Bay region, we will do just that.

This Week in the Watershed: Dead Zone Forecast, A Forgotten Fishery, and Paddler Activists

  • Bacteria loads in three local watersheds of Virginia's York River found high concentrations of fecal coliform bacteria and enterococcus, bacteria which can cause infections in humans. (Daily Press—VA)
  • Students in Hampton Roads are diving head first into the world of oyster restoration. (Daily Press—VA)
  • It's still early in the crab season, but numbers are up so far, boosting the local economy. (Star Democrat—MD)
  • American shad, a largely forgotten fishery, is experiencing a steep drop-off in the number of fish making it to spawning grounds, despite the investment in fish lifts at dams. (Bay Journal)
  • Improvements to wastewater treatment plants are well ahead of schedule, largely due to technological upgrades at treatment plants. (Baltimore Sun—MD)
  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that the dead zone on the Bay this year is predicted to be average to slightly smaller than average. (Capital Gazette—MD) Bonus: CBF Statement
  • Residents of Maryland's Eastern Shore are resisting the proliferation of massive chicken houses, which they argue have negative impacts on public health, property values, and the environment. (Daily Times—MD)
  • More than 250 paddlers descended on Baltimore's Inner Harbor demanding clean water. (Bay Journal)
  • Farmer and conservationist Bobby Whitescarver is teaching others how to effectively steward their land. (News Leader—VA)

What's Happening around the Watershed?

Throughout June

June 18

  • Easton, MD: The fourth-annual outdoor Clean Water Concert Series continues with the U.S. Navy Band Sea Chanters. The Navy's official chorus will perform pieces ranging from Broadway tunes to sea chanteys and everything in between; top-notch entertainment you won't want to miss! All concerts are free and open to the public. While enjoying the music, be sure to stop by the dozens of environmental and community exhibits, including CBF's, so that you can learn more about the Bay and how you can be a part of the movement to restore it.

June 24

  • Shady Side, MD: Break a sweat and help Save the Bay—join CBF in cleaning the "homes" of the next generation of Chesapeake Bay oysters! Help restore the Chesapeake's native oyster population by cleaning oyster shells. We'll be shaking off the dirt and debris on shells so baby oysters can successfully grow on them. This "shell shaking" event is a bit of a workout but a fun, hands-on experience. With lifting involved, it is not recommended for individuals with bad backs or other health concerns. A tour of our restoration center will follow the shell shaking. Click here to register!

June 25

  • Easton, MD: The fourth-annual outdoor Clean Water Concert Series wraps up with The XPD's. One of the best bands in the D.C. area, the XPD's are back and ready to groove to Motown, R&B, and funk tunes that will have you on your feet! All concerts are free and open to the public. While enjoying the music, be sure to stop by the dozens of environmental and community exhibits, including CBF's, so that you can learn more about the Bay and how you can be a part of the movement to restore it.

June 26

  • Upper Marlboro, MD: Join CBF for a day at Clagett Farm for educational presentations, a tour of the farm, a service project, and a showcase of foods produced on the sustainable farm. Attendees will assist in the filling and planting of elevated garden beds designed for easier accessibility to individuals with a limited range of motion. Click here to learn more and register!

—Drew Robinson, CBF's Digital Media Associate

This Week in the Watershed

While the blue crab was recently found to tolerate higher levels of hypoxia than previously thought, they're not out of danger. Photo by Damon Fodge.

As any mountain climber can attest, reaching new heights brings with it increased difficulty. The decreasing amount of oxygen in the air makes every breath more trying, to the point where oxygen is needed through personal tanks. Even the best of athletes can find themselves out of breath when facing low-oxygen environments.

In the Chesapeake Bay, critters are finding themselves facing a similar obstacle, as increased dead zones and warming waters from our rapidly changing climate are decreasing the level of oxygen in the water. Known as hypoxia, this condition depletes the Bay of life, devastating the ecosystem.

While new research by the Virginia Institute of Marine Science reveals blue crabs are more resilient to hypoxic conditions than previously thought, other creatures it depends on for food are vulnerable. The threat is clear and the plan to save the Bay is desperately needed. The Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint, if implemented, can make a dramatic difference in bringing oxygen levels back to safe and healthy levels in the Bay. Now wouldn't that be a breath of fresh air!

This Week in the Watershed: Keystone Pollution, Environmental Literacy, and Blue Crabs

  • Agencies throughout Pennsylvania's state government are exploring ways to accelerate pollution reduction efforts in the Keystone State. (Lancaster Farming—PA)
  • The environmental literacy requirement in Maryland has been a huge success thus far. (What's Up Mag—MD)
  • How will blue crabs respond to increasing water temperatures due to climate change? New research reveals intriguing findings. (Daily Press—VA)
  • ICYMI, the American Farm Bureau Federation is continuing its fight against the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint, filing for an extension of time to ask the Supreme Court to hear its appeal. (Bay Journal)

What's Happening Around the Watershed?

October 7

  • Virginia Beach, VA: CBF is hosting the second annual "Living Waters: Wading In" Interfaith Summit. Join us for a day of music, prayer, inspiring speakers, and collaborative work sessions as we explore ways the faith community can celebrate, protect, and restore our rivers, streams and the Chesapeake Bay. Click here to learn more and register!

October 9

  • Annapolis, MD: Want to help restore the Bay's oyster population? Become an oyster gardener! New oyster gardeners are required to attend an Oyster Gardening Workshop before beginning their first year of gardening, such as one in Annapolis October 9. Returning gardeners can register to pick up spat. Click here to learn more!

October 10

  • Easton, MD: Want to help restore the Bay's oyster population? Become an oyster gardener! New oyster gardeners are required to attend an Oyster Gardening Workshop before beginning their first year of gardening, such as one in Easton October 10. Returning gardeners can register to pick up spat. Click here to learn more!
  • St. Michaels, MD: Join us for a sail on CBF's historic skipjack, the Stanley Norman. While aboard, you'll be invited to help hoist the sails or simply enjoy the view! You will leave with a better understanding of oysters and their role in keeping the Bay clean as well as what CBF is doing to restore the Bay's oyster population. Click here to register!

October 11

  • Baltimore, MD: CBF's oyster gardening program is expanding to Baltimore Harbor! We're looking for 50 new gardeners to care for two cages of oysters each over the winter and then "plant" them on a reef in the spring. This unusual hobby is fun, educational, and helps to clean the harbor waters. Register here!

October 12

  • Annapolis, MD: The Annapolis VoiCeS Course, a six-week adult education class on Mondays, starts October 12! The course will cover regional environmental issues affecting Maryland and the Bay watershed. The program provides information on subjects affecting the health of our community's natural environment and how you can take action. In-depth sessions are taught by Bay experts from CBF and other regional institutions and organizations. Click here to register!

October 13

  • Easton, MD: The Eastern Shore of Maryland VoiCeS Course, a six-week adult education class on Tuesdays, starts October 13! The course will cover regional environmental issues affecting Maryland and the Bay watershed. The program provides information on subjects affecting the health of our community's natural environment and how you can take action. In-depth sessions are taught by Bay experts from CBF and other regional institutions and organizations. Click here to register!
  • Annapolis, MD: Current CBF oyster gardeners can pick up baby spat for the upcoming season. Register here!

October 14

  • Baltimore, MD: Get your hands dirty planting trees, shrubs, wildflowers, and grasses in a vacant lot in West Baltimore that CBF and a coalition of groups are restoring. Click here to register!

October 15

  • Edgewater, MD: Another opportunity for current CBF oyster gardeners can pick up baby spat for the upcoming season. Register here!

—Drew Robinson, CBF's Digital Media Associate

This Summer, the Crab Bake You Save May Be Your Own

The following first appeared in the Patriot News.

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Grassy habitats are critical for blue crab survival. Photo by Jay Fleming/iLCP.

Crab cakes. Crab soup. Crab Imperial.

Encrusted with a favorite seasoning or lightly broiled as cakes, by the pound or by the bushel, we love our crab meat.

Blue crabs are one of the tastiest and more resilient species that come from the Chesapeake Bay and their fate is the hands of Pennsylvanians.

The good news is total numbers of blue crabs in the Chesapeake Bay are up slightly this year, after the 2012-2013 survey indicated a drastic loss down to 300 million.

The 2015 Chesapeake Bay winter crab dredge survey shows populations of juvenile and adult blue crabs have gone up to 411 million. Most notable is how adult females have clawed their way from 68 million to 100 million.

Blue crab populations fluctuate because of a witch's brew of factors like severe winters, the harvest, and pollution.

Chesapeake Bay watermen supply as much as one-third of the nation's blue crabs each year. About 75 percent of the Bay's adult blue crab stock is harvested. As for Mother Nature, there is little any of us can do to control the weather.

But pollution control is within our grasp. Driven by our commitment at CBF to improve water quality in Pennsylvania as well as the Bay, we cannot think of delicious crab meat without also thinking of crabgrass.

A dense lawn is one of the more effective barriers against what many Americans consider intrusive and offensive crabgrass.

Applying lawn fertilizer can help get the job done. But the runoff of nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment is the leading cause of impairment of 19,000 miles of Pennsylvania waterways.

Agriculture is the largest source of that pollution. Urban and suburban runoff are also key sources.

Pennsylvania delivers half of the freshwater that flows into the Bay. It's easy to see how what we do in Pennsylvania, through agriculture and what we put onto our lawns, affects the health of the Bay and its blue crabs.

The presence of nitrogen and phosphorus in the Bay encourages the explosive growth of algae. Algal blooms darken the water and block light, killing underwater grasses that re-oxygenate the water and provide critical shelter for crabs.

"Dead zones" are formed when blooms fed by polluted runoff quickly die and decay, sucking up oxygen. In order to find oxygen, crabs move to shallow waters where they are caught more easily.

These "Dead zones" also destroy or inhibit the growth of clams and worms, an important food source for crabs.

The Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint is a plan that sets pollution limits for Pennsylvania and the Bay.

Pennsylvania has developed an individual plan to achieve those pollution reduction goals and committed to two-year milestones that outline the actions it will take to achieve success.

Achieving pollution reduction goals and improving water quality in Pennsylvania, with a sensitivity toward how we handle pollution, can ensure an ecosystem in the Bay that supports a healthy blue crab population.

—Harry Campbell, CBF's Pennsylvania Executive Director

Are you a resident of Pennsylvania? Make your voice heard, and tell your County Commissioners to pass a resolution saying Clean Water Counts in Pennsylvania!

Don't Backtrack on the Bay

The following first appeared in the Center Maryland.

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A group of more than 200 gathered February 24 in Annapolis at the Rally for Clean Water. Photo by Rob Beach/CBF Staff.

Is there a way for Gov. Hogan and the Maryland General Assembly to find common ground on two controversial environmental issues this year—reducing pollution from excess manure in rural areas, and reducing polluted runoff in urban and suburban parts of the state?

We certainly hope so. Maryland is counting on these two major clean-up measures to continue our progress toward restoring the Chesapeake and our local creeks and rivers.

And while we encourage across-the-aisle problem solving, we at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation will fight forcefully to ensure whatever bills emerge during this legislative session, or whatever regulations are put forth by the Hogan Administration, are strong enough to do the job. Watered-down measures won't get us clean water.

Recent assessments of the Bay's health have found significantly less pollution entering the Maryland part of the Bay, thanks in large part to upgrades at the state's major sewage plants. Marylanders paid for those upgrades and the millions of pounds of reduced pollution they brought through the so-called 'flush fee.'

Now we need to upgrade our stormwater systems. In the Greater Baltimore-D.C. area this is the next major source of water pollution in many creeks and rivers. It's weed-killer, pet waste, oil and other contaminants that wash off the landscape after a storm. It's such a problem that the Maryland Department of the Environment warns Marylanders not to swim in any creeks, stream, river or the Bay for 48 hours after a good summer thunderstorm.

And we need farmers on the Eastern Shore and our rural areas to help by applying the correct amount of manure on crop fields. Currently, about 228,000 tons of excess poultry manure are applied, and phosphorus in the manure ends up in nearby creeks and rivers, according to the Maryland Department of Agriculture. Phosphorus is a major cause of the ‘dead zones' of low oxygen that afflict Eastern Shore rivers such as the Choptank each summer, as well as the Bay at large. A tool developed over 10 years by the University of Maryland would enable farmers to determine the correct amount of manure to apply as fertilizer, without hurting the environment.

Governor Hogan pulled regulations proposed by the O'Malley Administration to address the manure crisis, and on Feb. 23 announced alternative regulations. Thankfully, those regulations recognize the necessity of regulating with the tool, but they include loopholes that allow for potentially indefinite delays of implementation. We cannot accept that. We support, instead, a legislative fix to the manure crisis, SB 257 and HB 381. Those cross-filed bills already represent considerable compromise between environmentalists and agricultural interests, allowing a six-year phase-in of the tool.

CBF also opposes any bills that purport to solve the problem of polluted runoff, without requiring local, dedicated funding. Reducing this type of pollution is expensive work. For decades, Maryland's most populated counties and Baltimore City have been required by state law to adequately fund this work, but they haven't. The General Assembly tried to fix that in 2012 by requiring these 10 populated jurisdictions to collect a dedicated fee. We oppose any attempt to repeal that law, or bills that would merely bring us back to a failed past. We've heard the promises before. We need accountability.

We hope in the coming weeks the General Assembly and the Hogan Administration can work together to forge collaborative, but effective solutions to these issues. Our measure of success cannot be simply that we passed legislation or enacted regulation. Our yardstick of success must be clean water.   

The public demands nothing less. Over 200 people took time off from jobs and families recently to attend a Rally for Clean Water 2015 on Lawyer's Mall. Over 20,000 "Don't Backtrack on the Bay" messages have been sent to Governor Hogan and legislators. When county leaders in Harford held a public hearing to consider repealing the county's polluted runoff fee, residents spoke out for the fee, against a repeal. These are just some of the signs of the public's desire for forceful action.

People understand that cleaner water will bring stronger communities and greater economic prosperity, just as a tide uplifts all boats. Requiring farmers to apply only the necessary amount of manure on fields, for instance, can actually improve the farmer's bottom line in the long run. Various technologies and industries are emerging that can use excess manure, or the phosphorus it contains, for alternative uses. The farmer can profit from doing the right thing.

History will record whether this governor and this General Assembly kept us on track to a healthier Chesapeake Bay. To all lawmakers, we say: Don't Backtrack on the Bay.

—Alison Prost, CBF's Maryland Executive Director

Take action now to remind Gov. Hogan and your state legislators that Maryland has committed to make steady, measurable progress on clean water restoration under the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint.

Get Down to Earth on Fighting Phosphorus Pollution—Just Use a Soil Test

The following was distributed by the Bay Journal News Service.

A CAFO, or Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation, on the Eastern Shore

Maryland's newly elected governor, Larry Hogan, recently repealed the state's Department of Agriculture's Phosphorus Management Tool (PMT) regulation. His act made me gnash my teeth.

Farmers and legislators on the Eastern Shore had begged him to repeal the regulation because it would have forced many of them to cease applying phosphorus-laden poultry litter to soils already saturated with the nutrient.

Those farmers would instead be forced to use commercial fertilizer with no phosphorus and balance nutrient application with crop needs.

Decades of repeated animal manure applications have overloaded many fields with phosphorus in the Bay watershed, including the Eastern Shore. There is so much phosphorus in these soils that it is polluting surrounding streams and the Chesapeake.

In the Chesapeake Bay watershed, 75–100 percent of the soil tests conducted on farm fields on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Virginia, parts of the Shenandoah Valley and the Lancaster County region of Pennsylvania, have "excessive or optimum levels" of phosphorus. Crops planted on these fields will not respond to additional inputs of phosphorus. Additional applications of phosphorus on these fields will leach into the groundwater or runoff and become a water pollutant causing algae blooms, dead zones and weakened aquatic ecosystems.

Society as whole is paying hundreds of millions of dollars for nutrient management practices on farms to correct these abuses, but we end up with little progress.

Our tax dollars pay for nutrient management plans and planners, the development of "phosphorus indexes," the PMT, cover crops and all sorts of fancy combinations of crop management techniques that look good on paper but in actuality do little to reduce excess nutrients in the water. The result is inflated or misleading numbers.

Why don't we use nutrient testing in the water to measure success instead of equating the development of a "plan" to a nutrient-reduction coefficient?

Survey after survey shows that people don't mind subsidizing farmers when they are doing things that improve natural resources. Personally, I loathe subsidizing farmers that continue to pollute even though the light of science is blazing in everyone's eyes — including theirs.

This scenario has been going on for decades all over the country where poor land-use practices pollute water and affect everything downstream. Science finds a solution — polluters whine and bellyache while politicians delay action. Science finds another solution but makes it more complicated — polluters whine and bellyache while politicians delay action. It's the endless-do-nothing loop. The result is more bureaucracy and paper work as well as inflated, valueless numbers that make us feel like progress is happening while in reality, only a snail's pace of incremental change occurs.

The housing bubble that created our most recent economic recession was caused by inflated values, lack of oversight and politicians not paying attention to sound management.

These same toxic principals — inflated values, lack of oversight and in the case of the PMT, a disregard for science — are causing a nutrient-reduction bubble in the Chesapeake watershed and beyond. In other words, we think we are reducing nutrients in the Bay but we really aren't.

The answer to this nutrient management problem is very simple and we could save millions of dollars doing it.

Use a soil test.

If the nutrient is already in the soil to feed the crop, don't apply more. Use the money from all the crazy, complicated formulas that documented the false reductions to move the nutrients to fields that could use it or transform it into something useful.

Phosphorus is a valuable nutrient that is needed worldwide. It is in short supply globally, and unlike nitrogen, cannot be manufactured. Conserving it and moving it to deficient areas makes sense. Manure transport and transformation programs need to be improved, verified and fully funded.

In the poultry industry, nearly all the birds raised in this country are owned by very large corporations. These big poultry companies, called integrators, bring the phosphorus in through feed they purchase from the mid-west. The farmer, who works under contract to the integrators, feeds it to the chickens.

But right now it's the farmer, who most likely took a loan out to build those poultry houses, who is left with the debt, any dead birds and the manure. It's an out-of balance scenario all the way around.

We are all to blame for this and there is something we can all do. Farmers need to fertilize according to a soil test; integrators need to take more ownership of the manure; scientists and environmentalists need to make solutions simpler; and politicians' actions need to act using science. I promise, if we can do this, society as whole will be willing to pay for it.

—Bobby Whitescarver

Tell Gov. Hogan and your state legislators that we can't backtrack on the Bay! Remind them that Maryland has committed to make steady, measurable progress on clean water restoration under the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint.

Robert Whitescarver is a farmer, certified nutrient management planner in Virginia and a retired district conservationist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He can be reached at 

Distributed by the Bay Journal News Service on 2/3/2015.

A Comprehensive Cleanup for the Bay

The following first appeared in the Diamondback.

The Conowingo Dam, in Laurel, MD. Photo by Eliot Malamuth.

Recent scientific studies show that sediment backed up behind the Conowingo Dam is not as big a threat as previously thought. During a big storm, 80 percent of the sediment that comes through the dam is from upriver, while 20 percent is the mud scoured from the area behind the dam, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. What that means is the bigger threat to the Chesapeake Bay remains what it always has been: pollution that enters the Susquehanna River and all other tributaries from farms, cities and suburbs.

Don Boesch, president of the university's Center for Environmental Science, testified in front of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works in May about the additional sediment coming over the dam.

"The increased loads have a relatively modest effect on dissolved oxygen in deeper waters near Kent Island, with little or no effects on water quality over vast portions of the estuary, including the larger tributary subestuaries, such as the Choptank and Patuxent Rivers. Impaired conditions in the tributaries, including not only water quality but also harmful algal blooms and fish kills, are much more determined by reductions of nutrient pollution loads within their watersheds."

It's important to keep our eye on the biggest problem: the source of pollution. We need to address the sediment buildup at the dam, but not as a substitute for the hard work in our own backyards to reduce the overload of nutrients and sediments that foul the bay and threaten crabs and other marine life.

The state General Assembly and this state's next governor, therefore, should be pushed to do just that. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation recently issued a list of critical actions state leaders must take in the next four years to finish the job of cleaning the Chesapeake Bay. Those actions include reducing the amount of pollution from manure that reaches creeks and rivers, tightening enforcement efforts of environmental laws and stopping raids to environmental funds. The foundation is urging its members and the public to consider gubernatorial and legislative candidates' positions on these issues when voting.

The university also should be aware that in 2010 the Environmental Protection Agency put the six states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed and Washington on what the agency called a "pollution diet." The jurisdictions all agreed to abide by this diet and to design and implement plans to do so. The foundation calls this initiative the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. It is a national model for restoring a multistate water system. It holds all jurisdictions accountable for progress. It will make the bay swimmable and fishable once again. The foundation was a leader in the initiative, suing the EPA to force the "diet" and subsequently pushing and helping jurisdictions to meet their pollution limits.

Meeting their responsibilities under the blueprint should remain the focus of leaders in this state and other jurisdictions. Pennsylvania leaders must do their share to reduce pollution entering the Susquehanna and ultimately reaching the Conowingo Dam. Other states and local jurisdictions must do their part to reduce pollution entering their local waters. This comprehensive approach offers the best hope not only for crabs, oysters and other marine life, but also for our children and grandchildren. They shouldn't have to swim or frolic in polluted water.

—Alison Prost, CBF's Maryland Executive Director

Getting "Run Off" the Beach Because of Runoff

The following first appeared as a Letter to the Editor in the Daily Press earlier this week.

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Beach goers in Virginia Beach "run off" the beach from dirty water. Photo by Andrea Moran/CBF Staff

The lower Chesapeake Bay has indeed been fortunate in dodging oxygen-starved dead zones this summer. However, Hampton Roads has seen its share of dirty, unsafe water in recent months.

Just last week, the Virginia Department of Health condemned oyster beds in parts of the James River off Newport News, banning all shellfish harvests there for the rest of September because the water "has been subjected to sewage spills likely containing pathogenic bacteria and viruses, and because the area is not a safe area from which to take shellfish for direct marketing."

Earlier this summer, health officials closed beaches along Ocean View in Norfolk, James River beaches in Newport News, Yorktown Beach, Gloucester Point Beach and the Virginia Beach oceanfront because of high bacteria levels in the water. As of last month, authorities had issued 31 swimming advisories for 16 different beaches, nearly all of them in Hampton Roads, spanning 74 days.

While unsafe beaches can be caused by natural factors such as bird droppings, more often it is the result of pollution running off streets, parking lots and lawns. Even a gentle rain washes pet waste, sewage, litter, grease, oil, fertilizer and other toxic substances off the land and into storm drains leading to nearby waterways. This pollution not only threatens public health, it hurts our local water-based businesses and industries.

Most importantly, runoff pollution is preventable. All of us can do our part to reduce runoff from our homes, yards, schools, businesses, and neighborhoods.

To learn more, go to Safe beaches are ours for the choosing. Choose clean water.

—Christy Everett, CBF Hampton Roads Director

Toldeo's Toxic Water Emphasizes Need to Reduce Pollution

The following first appeared in the Bay Journal News.

An algal bloom at Mattawoman Creek. Photo by John Surrick/CBF Staff

Surviving a heart attack is a huge wake-up call that usually warrants a change of diet. Toledo, Ohio, just survived a heart attack.

The city's drinking water, drawn from Lake Erie, became toxic because of a huge algae bloom. Algae blooms are caused by too much nitrogen and phosphorous in the water. This one was the city's wake-up call and signals it's time for a change of lifestyle.

The algae that caused Toledo's heart attack is naturally present in most water bodies including all of the Great Lakes, the Chesapeake Bay, the Albemarle Sound and the Gulf of Mexico. Too much nitrogen and or phosphorous, which feed the algae, can cause these algae to grow to enormous sizes called "blooms" that give off toxic substances that harm humans, wildlife and the aquatic ecosystem. Algae blooms are also responsible for "dead zones," which are areas in water bodies so depleted of oxygen that nothing can live.

Nitrogen and phosphorous are major components in fertilizer, manure and sewage. Improper use of fertilizer and manure contaminates our streams when rainwater washes off agricultural fields, feedlots, lawns and golf courses. Failing septic systems and outdated wastewater treatment plants also contribute to the excessive nutrient loading of our streams.

Reducing nutrients in our streams and rivers is the cure; some call this a "pollution diet". We have a pollution diet under way right now in the Chesapeake Bay watershed — and it is working.  Nitrogen and phosphorus levels in the Chesapeake Bay have been cut in half since the mid 1980s despite the fact that the population in the Bay watershed increased 30 percent from 13.5 million in 1985 to 17 million in 2012. This is an incredible achievement! The "diet" is working.

Reducing nutrients in streams is not rocket science. We know how to do it. Each of the six states in the Bay watershed came up their own pollution diet to reduce nutrient loading into their streams and rivers. These six plans were approved by the Environmental Protection Agency several years ago and together form the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint.

Lots of people are working together to implement the Blueprint. Farmers are fencing their cows out of the streams, planting riparian buffers, using fertilizers more responsibly and reducing soil erosion by using no-till methods and cover crops during the winter.

Local and state governments are investing in sewage treatment upgrades that remove nutrients from their discharges. People in cities and suburban areas are using less fertilizer on their lawns. Legislatures are passing laws encouraging nutrient management and have eliminated phosphorous in lawn fertilizers. Citizens are paying stormwater utility fees to help fund stormwater management projects.

There are deep-pocketed lobbyists from outside the Bay watershed that don't like the pollution diet for the Bay. The Fertilizer Institute, the American Farm Bureau Federation, the Corn Growers Association, the National Pork Producers Council, the National Chicken Council, the National Association of Home Builders and other lobbying groups associated with activities that contribute to nutrient loading are suing the EPA over the plan to restore the Chesapeake Bay.

Even more disturbing is the fact that the attorneys general in 21 states, most of them in the Mississippi watershed, signed "friend of the court" briefs on behalf of these deep-pocketed lobbyists. Meanwhile, Toledo can't use their water and the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico remains the second largest in the world.

Clean water is a choice. The people of the Chesapeake Bay watershed have agreed on a plan to get there. Successful implementation and the Chesapeake's plan will result in safer and more abundant seafood, jobs and tourism. We will have a healthier world; something we can be proud of.

I lament that we have to waste time and money on a lawsuit because we want/need cleaner water.

What happened in Toledo is unfortunate and tragic. For a remedy, they need to look no farther than the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. It's a "pollution diet" that is working.

—Robert Whitescarver
Whitescarver is a recently retired USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) conservationist who spent more than 30 years working with farmers on conservation practices. He now has his own private consulting business where he helps landowners create an overall vision and plan for their land. He also works with CBF to help famers install more Best Managment Practices (BMPs) in the Shenandoah Valley. He is the recipient of a CBF Conservationist of the Year award.

Take a moment to sign your name in support of clean water to protect the Bay and its rivers and streams for our children and grandchildren!

Could It Happen Here?

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A potentially dangerous blue-green algal bloom in Stafford, Virginia's Aquia Creek, summer 2011. Photo by Nikki Davis.

You've no doubt read or heard news accounts about the dangers to human health of a specific blue-green algae in Lake Erie and other areas of the country that last weekend shut down the municipal drinking water supply in Toledo, Ohio. You may be wondering, "Could it happen here?" Unfortunately, the answer is . . . yes. 

Here are three things you should know about this troubling situation:

    1. The same blue-green algae (technically called a cyanobacteria) that is causing problems in Lake Erie is also found in the Chesapeake region. The toxins produced by these blooms can be harmful to humans and wildlife that come in contact with the water during a bloom. Historically, these blooms have been documented in lakes and other impoundments, and in the tidal freshwater portions of the James River in Virginia and the Potomac River as well as both the the Choptank and Sassafras Rivers in Maryland. In fact, there was a bloom reported July 31 in the Choptank that had cell densities nearly three times what the World Health Organization considers a probable risk to human health. For more information, see CBF's recently reissued 2009 Report, pgs. 8-9, here.

    2. The cause of cyanobacteria blooms is the same as the cause of blooms of other types of algae—too much nutrient pollution. Lake Erie and the Chesapeake have similar problems—excessive nutrient pollution from agriculture and urban runoff—and both suffer from algae blooms.

    3. Fortunately, in the Chesapeake region, most drinking water supply intake pipes are not in areas that historically experience dangerous blooms. However, some drinking water reservoirs are affected by nutrient pollution, making them potentially vulnerable to algae blooms, including blooms of harmful algae. And some Maryland ponds and lakes have been closed to recreational use this summer because of harmful algae.

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A York River algal bloom several summers ago. Photo by Bill Portlock/CBF Staff.

The take-away is this: We must reduce the risk to human health from blue-green algae and other harmful algal blooms in the Chesapeake Bay region. This can be done by accelerating efforts to reduce nutrient pollution. Agriculture and urban runoff are primary sources of much of the phosphorus and nitrogen pollution causing these blooms. So, it makes sense to focus efforts on reducing these two sources of nutrient pollution.

Here in the Chesapeake region, those efforts are clearly laid out in the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint, the federal-state plan to restore the Bay and its rivers and streams. The good news is that it's working. Each of the six Bay states and the District of Columbia—including hard-working farmers, business, and individuals—are working together. We are well on our way to making our rivers and streams safer, improving habitat, and protecting human health. The bad news is that the American Farm Bureau Federation and the Fertilizer Institute have recruited 21 states from across the country to support their efforts to derail Chesapeake Bay restoration.

Yes, what happened in Toledo could happen here. Let's ensure it does not. If we, who live in the Chesapeake region want the safe, clean water we deserve, the Blueprint must be fully implemented.

—Beth McGee, Ph.D.,
Senior Water Quality Scientist, Chesapeake Bay Foundation