But the harsh truth is that Maryland also has failed to meet its cleanup requirements and is in violation of the Clean Water Act. Maryland achieved only 47 percent of the reduction required by 2017 for nitrogen, a major pollutant. The Environmental Protection Agency needs to enforce the law and act against all recalcitrant states, including Maryland and Pennsylvania, but refuses to do so.
The Chesapeake Bay is still polluted. Most gains in water quality are attributed to the more politically expedient removal of nutrients from wastewater treatment plants. Pollution from farm fields, particularly from chicken waste and other manures, and from storm water runoff from developed lands lag far behind required pollution reductions. Consider these hard truths:
●This summer’s dead zone size peaked at more than 2 cubic miles of water, nearly 50 percent larger than the long-term average and ranking as one of the three or four largest on record since 1985. A waterman was quoted: “The dead zones are getting bigger, and they’re getting more deadly.”
●In rural areas, such as the Eastern Shore, recovery is slower because of the failure to adequately address farm pollution, especially from chicken and other animal manures. Animal manure, because it is not treated when dumped on soils, contributes more phosphorus and nitrogen to the bay than does human manure in wastewater flows from 18 million people. The pollutant loads from Pennsylvania have little impact on these shore river systems.
●Reducing farm pollution is the most cost-effective way to achieve reductions, but Maryland failed to meet its nitrogen requirements for farmland. This is after hundreds of millions of dollars
have been given to farmers to voluntarily reduce polluting the bay.
●Bay pollutants may increase in future years because most nitrogen reductions and most phosphorus reductions have come from the costly upgrades to large wastewater treatment plants, with the ban on phosphates in detergents helping.
What were the consequences for these failures? None. The EPA failed to act. Perhaps Pennsylvania’s governor should write Hogan and the EPA calling for enforcement actions against Maryland.
What does all this mean for living resources? Collapsed fisheries. The oyster is key to bay health and is the best barometer of it. A recent survey showed that from 1999 to 2017, Maryland’s oyster population declined by 50 percent, reduced to less than 1 percent of historic levels — an astonishing failure given the expenditure of millions of dollars on oyster recovery. The study found that overfishing was occurring in more than half of the bay. This cannot be blamed on Pennsylvania. The governor and legislature have been fighting over what to do. Meanwhile, the status quo prevails.
Public health is affected as flesh-eating diseases
threaten life and limb and become more prevalent in the bay because of excess nutrients fueling the growth of toxic organisms. Bacterial infections are common in humans and dogs, especially after a rainfall when health departments warn residents to avoid water contact.
Under the Hogan administration, enforcement staff and actions have been greatly reduced. The grossly polluting chicken industry continues to dump manure on lands that cannot absorb its nutrients while the Hogan administration looks to delay existing regulations.
When bay governors met on Sept. 5, there was a lot of talk and little action to resolving these problems. Let’s hope they stop the blame game and come up with bold steps to better address farm and storm-water pollution and stop the loss of forests to development. The future of the Chesapeake Bay is at stake.