- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 16, 2002

ANNAPOLIS The health of the Chesapeake Bay has failed to improve overall in the past five years, an environmental group said yesterday.
The Bay's health rated a 27 out of a possible 100 the same as last year, according to the annual score given by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, which measures 13 categories including habitats, pollution levels and fisheries such as blue crabs and rockfish.
Since the foundation began releasing the report in 1998, the scores have been 27 or 28.
"In the past five years we have seen lackluster leadership and no systemwide improvements in the Bay's condition," said William C. Baker, the foundation's president.
The top priority for cleaning up the Bay, Mr. Baker said, is improving water quality by cutting in half the approximately 300 million pounds of nitrogen pollution that enter it each year from sewage treatment plants, power plants, air pollution and runoff from agriculture and rainwater.
In 2000, the governors of Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania and the mayor of the District signed Chesapeake 2000, a voluntary action plan to restore natural resources, reduce pollution and improve water quality enough to get the bay off the Environmental Protection Agency's list of dirty waters by 2010.
Mr. Baker estimated that meeting those goals would cost $20 billion and conceded that increasing funding for environmental programs will be difficult because of budget shortfalls in Virginia and Maryland.
"We know what's needed to save the Bay," Mr. Baker said. "It's a matter of putting money to work."
Scientists blame nitrogen and other nutrients for algae breakouts in the Bay that kill fish and choke bay grasses that are critical habitat for crabs and small fish. Mr. Baker called on the state and federal government to fund upgrades to sewage-treatment plants that would cut down nitrogen runoff by 42 million pounds a year. That process alone would cost an estimated $4.4 billion by 2010.
Mr. Baker said the Bay's scores could have been worse this year, but the drought reduced the amount of nutrient and sediment runoff. As a result, three categories water clarity and nitrogen and phosphorus runoff each improved by a point over last year. The pollution's still out there, Mr. Baker said, although there has not been enough rain to flush it through the system.
"The drought-driven progress is a bit like fool's gold," Mr. Baker said. "It looks like something valuable, but in the long run, it's worthless."
The score for blue crabs slipped two points this year to 40, due to harvest pressure and loss of habitat. However, Mr. Baker noted that regulations imposed by Virginia and Maryland the past two years to limit the harvest give room for optimism that the stock will be boosted in coming years.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation and Maryland's watermen have often found themselves at odds. through the system.
"The drought-driven progress is a bit like fool's gold," Mr. Baker said. "It looks like something valuable, but in the long run, it's worthless."
The score for blue crabs slipped two points this year to 40, due to harvest pressure and loss of habitat. However, Mr. Baker noted that regulations imposed by Virginia and Maryland the past two years to limit the harvest give room for optimism that the stock will be boosted in coming years.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation and Maryland's watermen have often found themselves at odds. But Kenny Keen, vice president of the Maryland Watermen's Association, applauded the foundation's focus on water quality.
"This is excellent common ground here," he said. "It's time to roll up our sleeves and go to work."
The lowest score went to the Bay's oysters 2, the same as last year. The foundation estimates the oyster population to be less than 2 percent of what it was in the time when Capt. John Smith explored the Chesapeake in the early 1600s. The unsullied state of the Bay at that time is the benchmark for the CBF's scale, rating 100.
The foundation's goal is to improve the Bay's health score to 40 by 2010, and 70 in 2050.
A Virginia legislative study released yesterday said the state's program to clean the Bay may have reached its limit after showing slow but steady results over the last decade.
The Chesapeake Bay Local Assistance Department, formed in 1988, has helped address the effects of pollution caused by growth and development, the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission report said. But the study said the state is unlikely to be able to expand the program.
The department, created to enforce the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act, helps local governments develop buffers and other land-use agreements. The JLARC survey found that local governments generally believe the Bay act has helped curb pollution.


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