- The Washington Times - Friday, April 3, 2009

BALTIMORE | Another report finds the Chesapeake Bay remains unhealthy, although restoration efforts appear to be working in some areas.

The analysis released Thursday by the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science gave the Bay a C-minus, a grade researchers say indicates conditions have not significantly changed from 2007 and remain far below those needed for a healthy Bay.

However, the analysis says restoration efforts appear to be improving conditions in some areas, such as the upper western shore and Virginia’s James River, while other areas continue to worsen.

“What we’ve seen is some of these good areas are getting better and some bad areas are getting worse,” said William Dennison, a researcher at the center and project leader.

A report released last month by the Chesapeake Bay Program also found no overall improvement over the past year. The Chesapeake Bay Program report found pollution caused by population growth and development overwhelmed cleanup efforts.

None of the 15 regions analyzed in the latest report received an A grade, with the upper western shore, which includes the Bush and Gunpowder rivers, receiving the highest grade, a B-minus. The lower western shore, which includes the Magothy, Severn, South, West and Rhode rivers, was the lowest-ranked region for the first time, receiving an F.

The regional approach “is really going to start telling us more about the source of the problem,” Mr. Dennison said.

The report shows infrastructure improvements that eliminate storm-water overflows during heavy rain and sewage-system improvements that appear to be helping, he said.

Sewage is a so-called nutrient, along with the runoff of fertilizers and manure from farms and lawns, that can feed algae blooms, which block sunlight needed by underwater grasses and choke off oxygen.

Runoff from the growing number of paved surfaces also can hurt water clarity and introduce pollutants. Satellite images, for example, show a plume of sediment from the Susquehanna River, a major freshwater source for the Bay, after every heavy rainfall, Mr. Dennison said.

The Susquehanna River, which stretches into upstate New York, is a prime example of how far away the pollutants that find their way into the Bay can come from.

The Chesapeake Bay is the nation’s largest estuary and its watershed covers about 64,000 square miles and includes about 17 million people in portions of New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia and the District. While gains have been made in reducing the amount of pollution generated by each individual, population growth is offsetting those gains, environmentalists say.

The University of Maryland analysis used data collected at more than 3,200 monitoring sites across the Bay’s drainage basin. The analysis found degraded streams throughout the watershed, especially in areas with significant urban, agricultural or mining uses.

“The health of local streams is almost always the direct result of how we manage the land around them,” said university stream ecologist and Chesapeake Biological Laboratory Director Margaret Palmer. “This new watershedwide look at the health of the Bay’s streams tells us we need to be doing more to protect and restore them. Without healthy streams, we will not be able to have a healthy Bay.”

Chesapeake Bay Foundation President William C. Baker said the report reiterated “what we all know - that the Bay’s health remains poor, dangerously out of balance - and it’s not getting significantly better.

“That’s why we sued [the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency] in January,” he said. “They have both the authority and responsibility under the Clean Water Act, to require that pollution is reduced. It’s time for them to step up to the plate and do it.”

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