States in the Chesapeake Bay watershed must continue to focus on reducing agriculture’s impact on the estuary, a key environmental group said Thursday in its latest update on the bay’s health.

The “report card” from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation remained unchanged from 2020’s D+, with most indicators of the estuary’s health staying the same. The grade for nitrogen remained an F, while phosphorus went from a D to a D+.

Overall, however, the health index scored 32 out of 100, no different from two years ago. That index includes ratings for 13 indicators, which in addition to nitrogen and phosphorus include dissolved oxygen, water clarity, forested buffers, wetlands, underwater grasses and fisheries resources.

“A big gain for oysters was tempered by a worrying drop for blue crabs, while pollution and habitat indicators showed only modest change,” CBF President and CEO Hilary Falk said in a preface to the report.

As CBF has said before, “More than 90 percent of the remaining pollution reductions needed to achieve the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint must come from agriculture,” the report said, singling out Pennsylvania in particular, largely because its legislature has repeatedly failed over the years to provide adequate funding for ag conservation programs.

Nevertheless, CBF representatives said they’re encouraged by new funding to help farmers at both the state and federal levels.

“The good news is that the bay is remarkably resilient and there is tremendous energy around the table,” Falk said. “With many new leaders taking charge — EPA administrators, governors, legislators, and within environmental organizations — we have an opportunity to prove that restoring clean water is possible.”  

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“Reducing agricultural pollution and urban polluted runoff are the defining challenge of the Chesapeake Bay cleanup at this moment,” she added.

CBF’s Pennsylvania director, Harry Campbell, pointed to $154 million in funding for the Agricultural Conservation Assistance Program approved by the state legislature last year. Rules are being written now for that program, he said.

In addition, USDA has allocated $22.5 million for Bay states, and funding in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act will provide millions, and potentially billions, of dollars for bay restoration, said Keisha Sedlacek, CBF's interim federal affairs director.

The Environmental Protection Agency said in October that only West Virginia and the District of Columbia are on track to meet 2025 pollution reduction goals. Other states in the bay watershed include Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, New York and Pennsylvania.

EPA rejected Pennsylvania’s third submission last fall of a Watershed Implementation Plan to meet bay pollution reduction goals, after concluding the plan fell substantially short of cutting nitrogen loads.

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