After decades of effort, the voluntary, collaborative approach to restoring the health and vitality of the Chesapeake Bay— the largest estuary in the United States—has not worked and, in fact, is failing. A diverse group of 57 senior scientists and policymakers have joined forces to save the Bay. This is our plan.

Agriculture: No. 1 Bay Polluter

(Posted by Gerald Winegrad.)

After 27 years of formal recovery efforts under the Bay Program, the Chesapeake Bay remains severely degraded and bay recovery is failing. About 90 percent of Bay waters remain impaired in clear violation of the Clean Water Act with collapsed fisheries, including oysters and shad. We have so poisoned our waters that reports abound of serious infections in humans who come in contact with Bay waters. Catfish in the South River have cancerous lesions and male bass from the Potomac are turning up with female egg sacs.

These are some of the consequence of the failure to aggressively address agricultural and other pollutants from developed land, known as non-point sources. The agribusiness lobby continues to be in denial over the fact that agricultural chemical fertilizers and farm animal waste contribute more Bay killing nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment than any other source. The recent law suit by the American Farm Bureau attempts to block the EPA’s setting of a pollution diet for Bay states in response to the states failing to meet basic Clean Water Act requirements for the Bay. The same agribusiness lobby group blocked passage of federal legislation to tighten up the Bay restoration efforts.

Here is the plain truth as reported by the EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Program, the best source of data on the Bay:

  • Agriculture contributes 43 percent of the nitrogen, 45 percent of the phosphorus, and 60 percent of the sediment to the Bay, more than any other source of these three key Bay-choking pollutants;
  • For some river systems, farm pollutants overwhelm pollution from development and all other sources, e.g. more than 60% of the nitrogen and phosphorus in the Miles and Choptank Rivers and 83 percent or more of the sediment come from farm pollutants. Even the highly developed Severn River watershed receives 60 percent of its Bay-choking, oyster bar-smothering sediment from agricultural runoff.
  • Agriculture has met only 50 percent of its pollution reduction goals that were supposed to be met by 2010. For wastewater treatment plants, 99 percent of the phosphorus and 78 percent of the nitrogen goals have been met despite huge increases in sewerage flows and great expense, including the Flush Tax on all Marylanders; and
  • Reducing farm pollutants is the most cost-effective way to save the Bay.

Our group of 58 Senior Bay Scientists and Policy Makers has been disparaged by the same agribusiness lobby and attacked as being a “fringe” group. Our group includes top-notch agricultural Ph.D.’s who have worked for decades with the farming community and who helped frame the call for action on agricultural, development, and other pollutants. These and other leading Bay scientists from three states joined together with two former Maryland governors (one of whom started the Bay clean-up), former U.S. and state senators and a congressman, two former secretaries of natural resources, Will Baker (President of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation), and other environmental leaders in calling for an end to the politics of postponement and noted the critical need to address agricultural and development pollution.

Maryland, other Bay states, and the federal government have given farmers hundreds of millions of dollars in mostly voluntary programs, but the missing element to assure compliance is strong regulations with mandatory implementation of manure management and nutrient management on all farms. Without such regulation, we have concluded that the Bay is doomed.

The real disaster in all this would be the failure of the EPA and the bay states to overcome the farm lobby and its attack on Bay restoration efforts and to act boldly in taking the necessary steps to restore the Bay. (See our 25-step action plan). We wouldn’t let a town of 25,000 people dump human manure untreated on open lands; why should we allow the dumping of the equivalent amount of manure from 150,000 chickens without meaningful regulation?

The agricultural lobby must come to grips with their pollution and better mange farm nutrients and sediment or be held responsible for the demise of the Chesapeake and the contamination of groundwater on which many people depend for drinking water. Without meaningful change, 27 more years will pass with the Bay becoming a dead body of water.

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