Chesapeake Bay Pollutants Drop More Than Expected

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By Leslie A. Pappas

April 18 — Pollutants in the Chesapeake Bay have dropped further than expected since 2009, surpassing targets for both phosphorus and sediment levels, according to data released April 18 by the Chesapeake Bay Program, a regional partnership of government, nonprofits and academics that works to protect and restore the Bay.

Phosphorus declined 20 percent, and sediment loads dropped by 7 percent between 2009 and 2015, computer simulations showed. Phosphorous declined 1.7 million more than the target, to 15.4 million pounds; sediment reduced 39 million pounds more than the target, to 8.035 billion pounds. Nitrogen loads fell 8 percent to 259 million pounds in 2015—but missed the target by 11 million pounds.

“I'm encouraged that we're moving in a very positive direction,” Nick DiPasquale, the program's director, told reporters in a conference call April 18. Scientists are finding evidence that the bay is improving, including “significant increases” in bay grasses, an increasing shad population and a rising number of blue crabs, he said.

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources said April 12 that the blue crab population increased 35 percent over last year to 553 million, the fourth highest level in two decades. The population of female blue crabs in the Bay has increased 92 percent since it was surveyed last winter, the Chesapeake Bay Program said April 13.

The reduction in nutrient and sediment pollution, which surpassed expectations, resulted from better agricultural practices, a drop in nitrogen due to Clean Air Act regulations, and upgrades to wastewater treatment plants, the group said.

Nutrient reductions in the wastewater sector accounted for 41 percent of the nitrogen reductions and 38 percent of the phosphorus reductions between 2014 and 2015, computer simulations showed.

Nitrogen Goal Shortfall

DiPasquale attributed the shortfall in the nitrogen goals to Pennsylvania, which is not getting the reductions it needs from the agricultural sector.

The Environmental Protection Agency is scheduled to release in mid-June milestone evaluations that would give more detail on how each state is doing, DiPasquale said.

Phil Cha, vice chair of the environmental law group at Archer & Greiner PC in Philadelphia, told Bloomberg BNA April 18 that the reductions in the total maximum daily load (TMDL) showed “significant progress.”

“The fact that they exceeded the TMDL targets for phosphorus and sediment is really, really good news,” he said.

Cha said he would be listening for more news about how the drop in pollution is affecting the Bay overall. “How's the bay recovering? That's what everybody wants to know,” he said. “That's the ultimate question.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Leslie Pappas in Philadelphia at lpappas@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com

For More Information

The Chesapeake Bay Program program data is available at http://src.bna.com/eci. More information from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources about the blue crab is available at http://src.bna.com/ecJ.