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Report: Chesapeake Bay Facing New Challenges

POSTED: 05:03 PM ET, 07/16/2008 by Derek Kravitz

"Washington Watchdogs," a periodic feature of the Post's Investigations blog, looks at the findings of the federal government's official investigators.

State and local agencies have made strides in cleaning up decades of water pollution in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, but those tasked with turning around the bay are still struggling to address a new set of threats, according to a government report released today.

Investigators with the Environmental Protection Agency's inspector general found and cited several new problems with the bay's cleanup, including uncontrolled land development, the limited implementation of agricultural conservation practices and the inability to control air emissions that are adversely affecting bay water quality.

Inspectors noted that in some cases, there are no clear regulatory programs to control the major sources of pollution and that other practices are controversial because they place restrictions on the lives of the residents of the bay watershed, such as being able to build additions to existing houses or develop vacant land.

"It will be difficult to address these challenges," the report says. "Even where cost effective practices exist, implementation may only be voluntary and thus limited."

The Chesapeake Bay watershed, North America's largest and most biologically diverse estuary, covers 64,000 square miles and includes parts of Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia and all of the District of Columbia.

About 16 million people live within the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

But most of the bay's waters are degraded. Algal blooms have cropped up, blocking sunlight from reaching underwater bay grasses, leading to low oxygen levels in the water and fish kills. Sediment runoff from urban development and farms have been carried into the bay, clouding its waters. Many of the bay's fish and shellfish populations are below historic levels.

The bay's blue crab stock is down about 65 percent since 1990 due to overfishing and water pollution, according to Virginia and Maryland fisheries managers. The states have imposed steep cuts on this year's female crab harvest, aiming to reduce the number of crabs taken by more than a third, The Associated Press reports.

Attempts to clean up the bay have been numerous.

Included in the recently passed multibillion dollar farm bill is $405 million to be spent over 10 years on the cleanup of farm-related pollution in the Chesapeake Bay. The program, sponsored by Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) will help reduce the runoff of nutrients and other pollutants from farms.

And while EPA officials are applauding a list of environmental achievements in cleaning the bay, investigators with the inspector general say the agency should "improve reporting to Congress and the public on the actual state of the Chesapeake Bay and actions necessary to improve its health."

In 2004, estimates of monumental pollution reduction were based on a computer model -- not water samples. The result was overly generous assumptions. Water monitoring data from the mid-1980s through 2003 indicated that the two targeted pollutants, nitrogen and phosphorus, showed no decline in most of the major rivers spilling into the bay.

By Derek Kravitz |  July 16, 2008; 5:03 PM ET Washington Watchdogs
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

Developers, contractors, and ultimately home buyers have spent millions of dollars implementing Best Management Practices for stormwater runoff throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed, particularly in Maryland. These practices are supported by rigorous inspection and permitting regimes at the local, state and federal level. The use of the term "uncontrolled land development" in this report is inaccurate and deceptive.

I hope the EPA resists this latest naked push by anti-development lobyists to further curtail development by heaping additional regulations and fees on a legal and vital part of our national economy.

Posted by: escrowe | July 17, 2008 3:40 PM

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