From the Desk of Alan Girard Winter 2015

We Can't Backtrack on the Bay  

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The Shore has a pollution problem, and everybody knows it. 

Poultry manure spread on farm fields is fouling local rivers and streams, making them unsafe for swimming and fishing. And in major rivers like the Choptank, pollution is getting worse.

It's a problem scientists have been studying for decades. To deal with an estimated 228,000 tons of excess manure—the amount spread on farm fields above and beyond what crops need for fertilizer—researchers have come up with a simple solution: Identify farm fields that are at risk for phosphorus run-off; then determine how much manure can be safely applied to those fields without increasing pollution to Eastern Shore rivers and creeks.

It's a common sense approach you don't need a PhD to understand. Yet even with more than 10 years of science behind it, farming interests are fighting hard against the measure. Poultry industry representatives and their lobbyists in recent years have managed to derail efforts to reduce phosphorus pollution from manure three times.

And now as state lawmakers convene in Annapolis, Governor Hogan vows to continue the struggle and further delay long-overdue action to restore the health of the Eastern Shore's magnificent waterways. In fact, in the first hours of his administration, he killed the 10-year effort to reduce over-application of manure on farm fields.

To be fair, it's important to acknowledge that change is hard. Some farmers may need to shoulder the burden of new expenses and practices to reduce pollution—which is why we support publicly funded cost-share programs to help. And most want to do the right thing—many already do. But even with the best of intentions, effectively dealing with phosphorus pollution on the Eastern Shore remains undone.

If ever there was a time to act on behalf of your local waterways, this is it. Please contact Gov. Hogan and your state legislators and remind them that Maryland has committed to make steady, measurable progress on clean water restoration under the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. We can't backtrack on the Bay! We must continue—indeed, accelerate—efforts to reduce urban, suburban, and agricultural polluted runoff. While rivers and streams get cleaner in other parts of the state, waterways on Maryland's Eastern Shore are becoming more polluted.

Here are some points worth making when you contact your leaders:

  • Maryland is committed to reducing pollution from agriculture under the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. The Blueprint is making water cleaner in other parts of the state, but phosphorus pollution on the Eastern Shore remains inadequately controlled and is getting worse.
  • Stopping pollution from agriculture is far cheaper than stopping it from any other major source, including sewage plants, cars, and paved landscapes.
  • Farmers currently use an outdated scientific tool to apply manure as fertilizer to farm fields, with no mandate to update it. As a result, phosphorus on many farms far exceeds healthy levels.
  • Polluted waterways on the Eastern Shore include the Chester, Choptank, Transquaking, Nanticoke, Sassafras, Manokin, Pocomoke, and Wicomico Rivers. About 80 percent of the phosphorus pollution that fouls those rivers comes from agriculture—and a lot of it from manure.
  • The Phosphorus Management Tool (PMT) can work for farmers and the health of our rivers and streams at the same time:
    • Phosphorus limits would be phased in over years and implementation would be cost-shared by the state.
    • Large poultry companies should have a role in helping small farmers reduce phosphorus pollution.
    • Finding alternative uses for phosphorus in manure can stimulate economic growth. Pilot and large-scale facilities already convert manure to energy, fertilizer pellets and highly marketable phosphorus-rich products. These initiatives can be scaled up further to create jobs and add value to excess manure.
    • Mixed species cover crops can meet fertility needs of grains and vegetables instead of manure, while building soil health and increasing farm productivity at the same time.

If lawmakers act now, local creeks and rivers on the Eastern Shore would get cleaner. So would the Chesapeake Bay. Swimming areas that once were off-limits would be safe again. Crabs, fish, and oysters would rebound. Watermen would go back to work. Farm fields would produce greater yields from healthier soil. Many farmers would sell excess phosphorus to the private market.

But if Gov. Hogan and lawmakers choose to continue to avoid dealing with phosphorus from manure, the health of local waters will only get worse. It's time to stop the delay. Make your voice heard on this critical issue today.

—Alan Girard
Eastern Shore of Maryland Director
Chesapeake Bay Foundation

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