'Mockery' made of Clean Water Act, CBF says

Chesapeake Bay earns a 'D' on foundation's 10th report

By PAMELA WOOD, Staff Writer
The Capital 04/16/09

Colleen Dugan - The Capital CBF President Will Baker speaks at the podium while J. Charles "Chuck" Fox, new special assistant on the Chesapeake Bay issues to the EPA, listens behind him and prepares to field questions from the press.

The Chesapeake Bay is in poor health and in dire need of more attention from the federal government, the head of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation charged Wednesday.

As he unveiled the annual State of the Bay report card, bay foundation President Will Baker called on federal officials to step up and take an active role in restoring the estuary's health.

"The federal government has made a mockery of the Clean Water Act," Baker said.

The bay foundation gave the bay a grade of D in its 10th annual report.

Foundation staffers use a 100-point scale to rate 13 health indicators, such as nutrient pollution, dissolved oxygen, wetlands, underwater grasses, rockfish, crabs and oysters.

See the State of the Bay report from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation:

This year's numeric score was 28 out of 100, the same as last year's report. A score of 100 would represent a pristine Chesapeake Bay, while a score of 40 would represent a vastly improved bay.

"We had hoped the bay would be 40 by 2010," Baker said, noting that bay states and the federal government signed an agreement in 2000 to clean up the bay enough to get it off the list of the nation's "impaired waters."

Government officials have been candid in saying that the promise won't be fulfilled.

"Sadly, that agreement is not being missed by an inch, but by a mile," Baker said.

The Chesapeake Bay and its rivers suffer from a persistent nutrient-pollution problem. Nitrogen and phosphorus flow into the water from farms, sewage plants, septic systems and urban and suburban stormwater runoff. Nitrogen pollution put in the air by power plants and vehicles also ends up in the bay.

Nitrogen and phosphorus fuel the growth of algae blooms that block light from reaching underwater grasses and choke life-sustaining oxygen from the water. Also, sediment clouds the water and smothers bottom-dwelling creatures such as oysters.

Foundation officials have charged that the only way to improve the bay's health is for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to set a "pollution budget" that would cap sources of pollution and set penalties.

The foundation sued the EPA in federal court in January asking for just that; the lawsuit hasn't yet been resolved.

"EPA can and must put science to work, enforce the law and reduce pollution," Baker said.

As Baker railed against the EPA's lack of action on the bay, several officials from the federal-state Chesapeake Bay Program - the program led by the EPA that's charged with bay cleanup - sat in the audience at the news conference.

J. Charles Fox, the EPA administrator's new special assistant on the bay, was invited to the news conference by the bay foundation to tell the EPA's side of the story.

Fox said he shares the bay foundation's concerns. He promised that the EPA is "exploring a range of tools" for clamping down on pollution, but he didn't offer specifics.

He said he hears loud and clear the foundation's call for more federal leadership.

"I can say with confidence that a demonstration of this leadership will be forthcoming," he said.

Action from the EPA could happen next month, when the feds and governors from the bay states hold a meeting at Mount Vernon in Virginia.

Baker from the bay foundation said Fox and EPA leaders are saying all the right things, but he'll believe it when he sees action to improve the bay's health.

"Is this a new day for the bay?" he asked. "Maybe. History will tell."

The State of the Bay is the latest in a series of reports issued this spring that attempted to rate the health of the bay.

The University of Maryland gave the bay a C-, while the official federal-state Chesapeake Bay Program said the bay's health was a 38 out of 100 and restoration efforts rated a 61 out of 100.



The Chesapeake Bay Foundation's 10th report card on the bay's health rates it as poor. The bay is ranked in 13 categories on a 100-point scale. A score of 100 represents a pristine bay, and 40 represents a restored bay.

• Nitrogen: F (17 points).
• Phosphorus: D- (23).
• Dissolved oxygen: F (14).
• Water clarity: F (14).
• Toxics: D (27).
• Forested buffers: B+ (56).
• Wetlands: C+ (42).
• Underwater grasses: D- (20).
• Resource lands: D+ (30).
• Rockfish: A+ (70).
• Oysters: F (4).
• Crabs: C (35).
• Shad: F (9).

Total: D (28)

(Revised April 2009)