Bay cleanup not living up to expectations

By PAMELA WOOD, Staff Writer

The health of the Chesapeake Bay is in sad shape, according to two reports released yesterday.

Chesapeake Bay Program report
University of Maryland report

Jeffrey Lape, the new leader of the federal-state Chesapeake Bay Program, said that despite plenty of work to save the bay, there hasn't been a major rebound in water quality.

"The bay is not yet responding as robustly and fully as we hoped," Mr. Lape said yesterday as he released the bay program's annual report in Eastport.

The report comes in two parts: one listing activities designed to improve the bay, such as grass plantings, and the other detailing water quality in the bay.

"It's intended to answer the cocktail party question of 'How is the bay doing?' " said Clayton Haywood, another official with the bay program.

The short answer to that question is that the bay isn't doing so well - an answer that people who care about it probably know already.

The bay program report lists shortcomings, such as falling short of goals for improved water quality, having a healthy bay floor and vibrant populations of fish, crabs and oysters. The bay also is falling short on underwater grasses and levels of life-sustaining oxygen in the water.

Those are some of the factors being measured as the 2010 deadline to clean up the bay approaches. There has been some progress over the years, but the bay isn't anywhere close to meeting the 2010 goals.

"Everything's inching up. The unfortunate thing is it's inching up slowly," Mr. Haywood said.

Meanwhile, the University of Maryland also came out with a bay report card yesterday, giving the overall bay a grade of D+ and Anne Arundel County's rivers a grade of D-.

Unlike the bay program report, which looks at the bay as a whole, the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science broke its data down into 15 geographic areas stretching from the upper bay to the mouth of the bay in Virginia.

Overall, the bay scored a 37 out of 100 possible points on the University of Maryland scale.

The lower western shore - which includes the Magothy, Severn, South, West and Rhode rivers - scored 21 for a D- grade.

The worst score went to the Patapsco and Back river system, which includes part of northern Anne Arundel County. Those rivers scored 13 for an F grade.

Dr. Bill Dennison of the UMCES said the Patapsco River is challenged because it's a relatively small river in the midst of a big city and highly developed suburbs.

"I do think there's hope for even the most degraded parts of the bay," he said.

Frank Dawson, Maryland's assistant secretary for natural resources, said there are plenty of efforts to help the bay and its rivers, including recently passed bills clamping down on car emissions and removing phosphorus from dish liquid. Meanwhile, sewage plants are being upgraded and farmers continue to try bay-friendly practices such as planting winter cover crops.

"All of those items and the report cards remind us this is a long-term commitment and we're not going to see improvement overnight," Mr. Dawson said.

He added, "If we had a simple solution, we would have implemented it."

In addition to yesterday's two reports, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation releases its "State of the Bay" each fall and Gov. Martin O'Malley's administration is working on its "BayStat" program.

Mr. Lape of the bay program said all the reports can be useful. They can help in figuring out the best way to spend tax money to get the most benefit, he said.

The CBF wants even more action from the government on cleaning up the bay.

"We cannot continue to go at the same pace we've been for the last five or 10 years and expect greater restoration accomplishments," said Roy Hoagland, a CBF vice president. "It just won't happen."

Published April 19, 2007, The Capital, Annapolis, Md.

(Revised April 2007)