Hampton Roads Algal Blooms Send Distress Signal

By Christy Everett, CBF Hampton Roads Director

Today I flew over the Hampton Roads area in a 4-seater Cessna with CBF's volunteer pilot Fred Bashara and Daily Press environmental reporter Cory Nealon to observe algal blooms.   It was Cory's first time viewing algal blooms from the air. Fred's been flying for 40 years and remarked that the algal blooms have gotten much worse over the past few years. 

Although I've witnessed algal blooms from Fred's plane before, I too was shocked to see how pervasive they are this summer.  These ugly massive swirls of reddish brown algae are stark reminders of why we need to reduce pollution from all sources.  

It is frustrating to see the waterways we're trying so hard to restore remain endangered by too much nitrogen and phosphorous pollution.  This type of pollution is the most serious problem facing the Bay today, and we have a lot more to do to curb it.

When this "nutrient pollution"� invades our summer-warmed waterways through a rain event, it feeds an over-abundance of algae that "blooms"� and grows, blocking sunlight beneath the surface for days.  As the algae die, decompose, and sink to the bottom, they consume oxygen from the water which leads to "dead zones,"� areas where dissolved oxygen levels are so low fish, crabs, and oysters cannot survive.  

Stormwater runoff in Hampton Roads continues to hinder restoration efforts.  Although we've seen some positive signs from the Bay such as the rebounding crab population, these algal blooms have become more common and intense in recent years and indicate our waterways are still in trouble.  

From the ground, you can only see a small part of the algal blooms.  Once you're in the air though, you realize that we all live near a waterway and this annual invasion threatens water quality throughout countless neighborhoods in Hampton Roads.


I'm often asked what one person can do to help improve water quality.  Typically I respond with tips such as picking up your dog's waste, refraining from blowing grass clippings into the street, not applying excessive lawn fertilizer, etc.  This year, I tell people the single most effective thing they can do immediately is to pick up the phone or write a quick note to Senators Warner and Webb, urging them to support the Chesapeake Clean Water Act, currently in Congress.  

For the first time in decades, this legislation provides hope of holding all pollution sources accountable. If passed, the act would give states flexibility to reduce pollution from all sources, provide funding incentives and penalties, and establish real deadlines for state pollution plans, with phased implementation, for restoring the Bay by 2025.  But opposition from agricultural and other groups threatens the bill's passage.  CBF is working hard to discuss these issues with farmers and elected officials, explaining that the bill will help, not hurt, the economy while providing desperately needed help for the Chesapeake Bay.

If the Chesapeake Clean Water Act passes, I trust that one day when I fly over Hampton Roads on a hot August day, those ugly algal blooms will be a faded memory, not a predictable reality.


Chesapeake Bay Foundation



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