Bay's health among worst : Nutrient pollution problem
in 2/3 of nation's estuaries
By PAMELA WOOD, Staff Writer
Chesapeake Bay is the nation's largest estuary. It's also one of the
most loved, most studied and most funded.
And according to a new national report, it's also one of the
nation's worst when it comes to dead zone-causing pollution.
"Bottom line: It's a disgrace the Chesapeake watershed, right
here in the nation's capital, is listed among the worst polluted systems
in the country," said Beth Lefebvre, a spokesman for the nonprofit
Chesapeake Bay Foundation. "Report after report highlights the dire
situation of the bay and its rivers."
What's different about this latest report - the National Estuarine
Eutrophication Assessment - is that it puts the problem in a national
While the report has a mouthful of a name, it had a simple
goal: figure out how much human nutrient pollution is harming the
nation's bays, sounds and gulfs.
Nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen come from a variety
of sources: fertilizer runoff from farms, air pollution falling
into the water, dirty urban and suburban stormwater runoff, failing
septic systems, outdated sewage plants.
When nutrients build up in the water, they fuel algae
blooms. The algae block light from reaching underwater grasses
and suck oxygen from the water - harming fish, crabs an oysters.
That process, called eutrophication, is an acute problem
in estuaries, where freshwater rivers flow into saltwater.
"The ecological health of our nation's coastal waters
is threatened by nutrient pollution. They are in need of
protective action," said Dr. Suzanne Bricker, a scientist
for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
who was the report's lead author.
In two-thirds of the 99 estuaries that were evaluated
- including the Chesapeake Bay - nutrient pollution
is considered "moderate
to high," she said.
Within the Chesapeake, the report looked at
nine areas. Five - including the bay's main stem
- had high levels of nutrient pollution problems.
The other four had moderately high levels of nutrient
Rich Batiuk of the federal-state Chesapeake
Bay Program, said the bay isn't "turning the corner" that's
He said nutrient pollution is "what's
causing the Chesapeake not to be the bay system
we want it to be," with healthy fish, crabs and
shellfish and clean water to swim in.
As for the future, the report predicts
one-third of the bay's areas will improve,
one-third will stay the same and one-third
And the mid-Atlantic region as a whole
- defined in the report as south of Cape
Cod to the Virginia-North Carolina state
line - has the greatest number of estuaries
with moderate or high levels of nutrient
In a conference call with reporters
yesterday, Dr. Bricker and other federal
officials talked about what's being done
- and what needs to be done - to fix the
Coordination between different
levels of government, assistance for
farmers, stricter discharge permits and
effective enforcement of clean air and
clean water laws are all needed, they
Those steps are particularly
important as coastal cities and towns
are only expected to grow.
Right now, efforts are only "holding
the line" on nutrient pollution,
Dr. Bricker said.
Retired Navy Vice Adm. Conrad
C. Lautenbacher Jr., who is the
head of NOAA and also holds a doctoral
degree in applied math, said even
individual homeowners can be part
of the solution - for example,
by skipping nutrient-rich lawn
"This is not something that's
solely the purview of the federal
government," he said. "If we're
going to solve this problem, it's
going to be solved by every American."
Published August 01, 2007, The Capital,