August Dead Zone Is Bad News for the Bay

Efforts to reduce pollution from agriculture need to be accelerated

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation raised concerns about Bay restoration efforts following the August dead zone report. The report, from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and Old Dominion University, found that dissolved oxygen conditions in Maryland and Virginia were worse than average this August following two better-than-average months. The report attributed the increased size of the dead zone to significantly warmer temperatures, lower wind speeds, and greater precipitation.

The Bay’s living resources, including fish, crabs, and oysters, require healthy levels of oxygen to survive. For example, Atlantic sturgeon, a federally endangered species, require 5 mg/l of dissolved oxygen throughout their range. An expanding dead zone may curtail recovery efforts for this ancient fish.

“Warmer waters and greater precipitation, both hallmarks of climate change, are a growing threat to the Bay and its living resources,” said CBF’s Maryland Senior Scientist Doug Myers. “Combined with declines in both the number of crabs and acreage of Bay grasses, it is clear that we must significantly ramp up efforts to reduce pollution and combat climate change.” 

Time is running out for the watershed states to adopt the Bay restoration practices and policies they committed to in the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. While Maryland and Virginia have plans to achieve the 2025 goal, additional funding and implementation are critical. Pennsylvania’s plan, however, is sorely deficient and the Commonwealth needs to increase spending by more than $300 million dollars annually to implement a plan that falls short of achieving Pennsylvania’s clean water commitments.

These plans require farmers, primarily in Pennsylvania, to achieve 80 percent of the remaining pollution reduction necessary by the 2025 deadline. That means that farmers will have to significantly increase the use of conservation practices.

Conservation practices, such as planting forested buffers and rotating where livestock graze, are among the most cost-effective ways to reduce pollution from agriculture. The same practices also help mitigate climate change by sequestering carbon as well as boost local economies by creating jobs and generating business in the community. 

Achieving the Blueprint goals will require more than just conservation funding. All the federal partners must step up to the plate. To date, EPA has failed to meet its Clean Water Act responsibilities by refusing to hold Pennsylvania, and to a lesser extent New York, accountable for failure to develop plans that meet the Blueprint requirements.

More than a year ago, CBF and its partners Anne Arundel County, The Maryland Waterman’s Association, Robert Whitescarver and Jeanne Hoffman, and the State Attorneys General for Delaware, Maryland, the District of Columbia, and Virginia filed suit in federal court. To date that litigation continues, and EPA has not taken action.

“The good news is that CBF is working with a broad range of partners to increase conservation funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In addition, partners are working to put in place a program in Pennsylvania that would, for the first time, provide significant state funding for conservation practices,” said Alison Prost, CBF Vice President for Environmental Protection and Restoration. “The bad news is that without EPA leadership to hold the states accountable, and additional conservation funding, the Blueprint will be just another failed effort to save the Bay.”

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John Surrick 90x110

John Surrick

Former Director of Media Relations, CBF

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