The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) is encouraged by new survey results released Wednesday by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and Old Dominion University that found the area of low dissolved oxygen in the Bay was better than average for 2022.
This area in the Bay’s mainstem is referred to as the dead zone because it is inhospitable to marine life such as oysters, striped bass, and blue crabs. According to the survey results, in 2022 the size of the dead zone averaged about 0.65 cubic miles, smaller than the historical average of 0.79 cubic miles, making it the 10th smallest recorded dead zone in the survey’s 38-year history.
The dead zone is an important indicator for evaluating how much pollution is reaching the Bay. Primary Bay pollutants such as nitrogen and phosphorus fuel algal blooms that remove oxygen from the water when they die and decompose, creating the dead zone. The dead zone is smaller when fewer pollutants enter the Bay and its tributaries, especially in the spring.
Bay watershed states are working under the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus sources to the Bay. CBF is urging the Bay jurisdictions to ramp up agricultural pollution controls to limit the largest source of pollution currently entering the Bay. Roughly 90 percent of the pollution reductions needed to meet the Blueprint requirements must come from agriculture. The Inflation Reduction Act and U.S. Department of Agriculture funding provide an opportunity to address this pervasive issue by helping farmers add farm conservation practices such as streamside forested buffers, rotational grazing, reduced fertilizer use, and no till or limited till farming. Adding these practices to the land also helps mitigate climate change.
In addition to environmental benefits, a new economic study commissioned by CBF found that investing in farm conservation practices would inject $655 million per year into the region’s economy and support 6,600 jobs at businesses such as landscaping companies, tree nurseries, lumberyards, engineering firms, and building supply companies.
In response to the dead zone survey results, CBF’s Director of Science and Agricultural Policy Beth McGee issued the following statement:
“This year’s results showing a ‘better than average’ dead zone is, in part, a reflection that our pollution reduction efforts are working. Unfortunately, ‘average’ or ‘better than average’ isn’t acceptable as it means much of the Bay is still off-limits for aquatic life.
“We must accelerate our efforts to reduce polluted runoff from farmland. We know conservation practices such as cover crops, rotational grazing, and planting streamside forested buffers are effective ways to reduce fertilizer use and agricultural pollution. Federal and state funding increases for these conservation measures, such as through the Inflation Reduction Act, will help more farmers implement these urgently needed practices and address the largest source of pollution to the Bay and the region’s rivers and streams.”