Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint Progress: How Are We Doing?

As Marylanders, we are accustomed to annually reading about the “State of the Bay” in terms of grades (A-F) but early last month, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) and the Choose Clean Water Coalition released a different type of assessment, an easy to read “thumbs up/thumbs down” Interim Progress Report on the Maryland’s compliance with the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint.

The Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint is comprised of science based limits for nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment pollution.  The Blueprint was established in 2010 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Bay jurisdictions (DE, MD, PA, VA, DC, WV).  Both EPA and the States have committed to implement actions to achieve 60 percent of the needed pollution reductions by 2017 and 100 percent by 2025.

The Blueprint represents an extremely daunting task, especially considering that the pollution comes from a variety of sources including animal waste and fertilizer, runoff from urban and suburban development, wastewater treatment plants, and septic systems.  Therefore, the States created two year milestones so that they could assess the success of the actions taken to reduce pollutant loads.

Maryland’s Interim Progress Report has an appropriately colored green thumbs up or red thumbs down next to each of the practices, broken down into agricultural, urban/suburban and wastewater/septic categories.  When implementation, relative to the goal, is at least 50 percent, the category gets a green thumbs up.

So how did Maryland do?

In the Agricultural section, Maryland scored a green thumbs up in all but one of the chosen practices.  The State has achieved 88% of the milestone goal for traditional cover crops, a practice that is highly efficient at nitrogen removal.  MD also did well in the Animal Manure Management Structures, not exactly the swimsuit competition, but according to the report, it is critical to facilitate better manure management to reduce phosphorus pollution. The State also scored well in the use of grass buffers, but CBF notes this milestone was set too low.  Maryland scored poorly (-67%) in nutrient application management. However, this figure could be misleading and simply mean the State needs to do a better job of tracking the acreage covered under nutrient management plans.

In the Urban/Suburban category, Maryland scored well for the use stormwater retrofits for existing impervious areas.  As for wastewater, Maryland scored a green thumbs up for the number of new wastewater plants that meet “Blueprint Standards”.  The groups also gave credit to Maryland for increasing the Bay Restoration Fee to provide necessary funding for plant upgrades.  In the final category, septic practices, the State scored 86%, in achieving the goal of hooking up to sewage systems instead of installing septics.

So what does all this mean?

“Some findings are cause for celebration: in several areas Maryland is making significant progress. But the report also exposes deficiencies,” said Erik Fisher of CBF’s Eastern Shore Office. “Also, in doing this evaluation we could clearly see the need for better verification protocols to ensure the work is being done.”

Making progress on pollution controls is paying dividends in Bay water quality.  Dr. Walter Boynton from the University of Maryland’s Chesapeake Biological Laboratory recently presented six exciting case studies where pollution reduction consistent with the Blueprint has reversed the trend of declining water quality. Reduced harmful algal blooms, improved water clarity and re-growth of underwater grasses were found.

According to the Report, CBF and the Coalition hope that next year’s Interim Progress Report will display information on a more local level.  The report provides “success will not happen without the knowledge of what is needed and what is being accomplished in our local communities to address both restoration of the Bay and our streams and rivers.”

All the jurisdictions in the Chesapeake Bay region are making progress meeting pollution reduction goals, but no jurisdiction is on track to implement all the pollution reduction practices they committed to achieve by 2013.  Interim Progress information is available for all of the Bay Jurisdictions on CBF’s website-