- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 11, 2003

ANNAPOLIS A scientific panel mapped out three possible scenarios yesterday for the future of the Chesapeake Bay, tracking the effect of pollution and population growth over the next three decades.
The report, issued by the Chesapeake Bay Program's Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee, examined the outcomes likely if current trends continue, if environmental objectives in place are met, or if feasible alternatives are implemented.
The human population in the watershed is expected to reach 19 million by 2030, the study projects. Going by trends today, about 2 million acres of farm and forest land will be lost to sprawl by 2030, but feasible alternatives could reduce the loss by 80 percent, the study found.
The population increase also could offset gains made in reducing so-called nutrients, such as nitrogen, during the past 15 years if the region does not meet current commitments to limit pollution from agriculture, sewage-treatment facilities, power plants and automobiles, the authors found.
Titled "Chesapeake Futures," the report represents the work of scientists and technical experts who examined several models and assessments to make their projections, including mid-Atlantic climate models and regional projections for agriculture, forestry and land development.
Excessive nutrients cause algae blooms, which can steal oxygen from the water, keep light from reaching underwater plants and kill fish.
Because Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has called nutrient pollution the leading threat to the Bay and made upgrading wastewater-treatment plants a priority, there is cause for optimism that nutrient management could improve in the coming years, said Donald Boesch, chairman of the advisory committee and director of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science in Oxford.
"In fact, we have both [former Gov. Parris N. Glendening and now Governor Ehrlich] embracing that notion, making that commitment to go there," Mr. Boesch said. "We just need to find the resources to do it."
By meeting reduction targets and making improvements called for in federal and multistate agreements including the Chesapeake 2000 agreement signed by Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and the District the Bay would improve to how it was in the 1970s, with more oxygen in bottom waters and better water clarity. The abundance of underwater grasses or fish or shellfish seen in earlier times, however, would not be restored, the authors found.
More progressive programs, combined with such new technologies as hybrid vehicles and a stronger environmental ethic, could lead the Bay to return to the productivity of the 1950s by 2030, the report says.
Theresa Pierno, Maryland director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said the study is being presented at a time when state and federal governments are facing budget crunches and rolling back environmental commitments. To reach the most optimistic scenario in the study would require spending more money to embrace the new technologies, she said.
"The reality is the picture today, looking at where policies are going and where the budgets are, is certainly not going in the direction we need to make the brighter future a reality," she said.

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