The Chesapeake Bay continues to face challenges to its health from water and air pollution, leaders of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation said in releasing its biannual report Tuesday, which gave the estuary’s health a D+.
And they are looking to the new Biden administration to reverse course on environmental rollbacks they say won’t help the iconic water body recover from decades of pollution, much of it from nitrogen and phosphorus applied to farms.
President-elect Joe Biden, a longtime senator from Delaware, has been “a reliable partner in bay restoration efforts in the past,” said CBF President Will Baker, expressing optimism that the new president “will take protection of water quality and human health seriously.”
CBF would like to see the new administration change course on the Trump administration’s rule defining “waters of the U.S.” under the Clean Water Act, which dozens of states and environmental groups, including CBF, are challenging in court, as well as a tightening of vehicle emission and coal plant emission standards.
The foundation’s latest report said that since its last review in 2018, both nitrogen and phosphorus pollution, as well as dissolved oxygen levels, have improved.
But despite a decrease in the bay’s “dead zone,” or areas with low to no oxygen, “The Chesapeake Bay system is still dangerously out of balance,” Baker said. The report showed decreases in scores for striped bass and shad management, streamside forested buffers and underwater grasses.
Much of the discussion on a conference call with reporters Tuesday focused on the need for Pennsylvania to stem pollution from farmland. CBF, as well as Maryland, Virginia, Delaware and the District of Columbia, have sued EPA in an attempt to enforce pollution reduction goals for Pennsylvania and New York.
“This is not time to give up on water-quality goals,” the State of the Bay report says. “The 2025 deadline for implementing the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint is approaching, and we must accelerate implementation by ensuring sufficient state and federal funding. In particular, Pennsylvania, the state with the biggest pollution-reduction gap to close, must establish a state agricultural cost-share program to assist farmers. At the same time, we should expand scientific understanding of the effects of management actions and use this information to inform restoration efforts.”
The bay's Total Maximum Daily Load, or TMDL, and bay jurisdictions’ Watershed Implementation Plans together make up the blueprint.
Beth McGee, CBF’s director of science and agricultural policy, said state and federal investments will be necessary, particularly in agriculture, to meet 2025 goals for bay health.
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“Without significant additional reductions from Pennsylvania, it will be impossible to meet the blueprint goals,” she said.
Pennsylvania has said it faces an annual funding gap of $324 million to meet bay restoration targets.
Liam Migdail, communications director at Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, said "Pennsylvania farmers have made — and continue to make — major strides in implementing conservation practices that reduce nutrient and sediment pollution in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. We are also supportive of and helped to develop the recommendations in Pennsylvania’s Watershed Improvement Plan (WIP), which call for ramping up conservation efforts even more in an effort to meet pollution reduction goals for the Bay by 2025."
But there are resource constraints, he said. While farmers in the commonwealth want to do more, "many are not in a position to fund these conservation investments on their own," Migdail said. "The challenging farm economy of the past few years, followed by the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, has put even more financial strain on farms, making funding to help share the cost of conservation improvements all the more important. We’re thankful for the additional state and federal funding that has been directed towards on-farm conservation measures but recognize that even more investment will be needed to help implement the conservation practices called for in the WIP. Funding is needed both to help pay for the conservation improvements and increase the technical support available to help farmers meet these goals."
"We will continue to advocate for additional funding and technical support to help farmers build on their work to improve water quality," he said.
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