- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 10, 2004

LAUREL, Md. (AP) — Tropical storms Charley, Frances and Ivan dumped record amounts of rain into the Chesapeake Bay last month, causing a drop in water clarity and an increase in pollution.

Those conditions probably are temporary, said Scott Phillips, the Chesapeake Bay coordinator for the U.S. Geological Survey. Mr. Phillips said last month’s storms probably won’t spoil an otherwise great year for upper-Bay grasses and water quality.

“In the short term, the Bay got cloudier,” Mr. Phillips said Wednesday at the annual Chesapeake Bay Monitoring Data Analysis Workshop in Laurel, where scientists from Maryland and Virginia gathered to discuss the Bay’s overall health.

But in the long term, water quality should not be affected, he said.

The Susquehanna River, which provides the Bay with about half its fresh water, was the largest factor in the trends that Mr. Phillips described. The river’s flow into the Bay reached 113,000 cubic feet per second, 72 percent more than the previous September record, set in 1937.

For the first time in eight years, the Susquehanna’s current was strong enough to pull up sediment trapped in Conowingo Dam and carry it downstream.

The result, Mr. Phillips said, was inordinately cloudy water.

At times, water-clarity measurements in areas north of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge were about 0.1 meter, a fraction of the clarity usually seen this time of year, which is about a meter.

The consensus at the workshop seemed to be that for all the damage that Charley, Frances and Ivan caused in the short term, the consequences would have been far worse for the Bay if the storm had hit in June, as Tropical Storm Agnes did in 1972.

Fall’s cooler temperatures also bring winds that mix the Bay’s water, diluting pollution.

Also last month, the Bay grasses that provide crucial habitats for crabs and food for waterfowl virtually finished their growing season.

Though Bay grass growth has hit a 20-year low, researchers have seen a bumper crop in the upper Bay since spring.

They attribute that to a decline in phosphorus flowing into the Bay from Pennsylvania farms and to a strange kind of macro algae.

Most algae block the sun and hinder grass growth, but scientists say they think the blooms in the upper Bay, which form a thick carpet over the grasses, might be trapping sediment and helping the grasses grow.

Peter Tango, chief of Quantitative Ecological Assessment with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, called the upper Bay’s grass growth “phenomenal” and predicted that it might set a record, even if water clarity does not.

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