Study findings prompt Maryland governor to take action to improve Chesapeake Bay cleanup efforts
For more than 40 years, there has been an effort to reduce nutrient loads to improve water quality in the Chesapeake Bay. The Chesapeake Bay’s Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee released a report on its three-year investigation into this effort.
The results suggest that significant adjustments are needed to the existing programs as well as public expectations to improve its health.
"This report set out to focus on a tremendous amount of scientific expertise that looked at everything the findings were telling us from how people pollutant processes to how the Chesapeake Bay is responding to water quality improvement efforts,” said Kurt Stephenson, co-editor of the report and an agricultural economist and professor with the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Virginia Tech.
The results described a number of reasons why pollutant reduction and the Chesapeake Bay water quality goals are not being met. It examined how effective current actions have helped to reduce nutrient pollution from wastewater treatment plants — known as point sources — and farms and developed lands — considered nonpoint sources.
Agriculture is the single largest source of nutrients to the Chesapeake Bay, while urban stormwater is the fastest-growing source of nutrients.
Although there has been success in reducing nutrient pollution from point sources, findings indicate that actions taken to reduce pollution from nonpoint sources are insufficient to achieve pollutant reduction goals for the bay. Existing programs are not generating enough participation and the best management practices being installed are not generating the expected magnitude of pollutant reductions.
“Achieving nonpoint source pollution reductions cannot be achieved by simply spending more time and effort on the same programs,” Stephenson said. “Making significant progress in reducing nonpoint source pollution will require the development and testing of new approaches and programs.”
The report also discusses water quality improvements that can be better targeted to increase the fish, oyster, and crab populations. It may not be possible to achieve water quality goals everywhere in the Chesapeake Bay. Still, improvements can be made to areas that significantly impact fish and other aquatic organisms.
In response to the study’s results and recommendations that said states could be making greater progress on this issue, Gov. Wes Moore announced that Maryland would shift its focus to the Chesapeake Bay cleanup.
Joined by EPA Region III Administrator Adam Ortiz at a state wildlife research center in Queenstown, Moore said the state would follow the science outlined in the report and focus more on the Chesapeake Bay’s shallow water resources.
Moore signed the first of two executive orders he issued and has created a governor’s council that will work on shifting bay cleanup strategies.
The full report can be found here: https://www.chesapeake.org/stac/cesr.
About Kurt Stephenson
Kurt Stephenson's research interests include market-based environmental policies, water resource economics and policy, and the role of economic analysis in public policy. His current work focuses on environmental trading programs such as water quality trading, carbon offset, credit programs, and wetland mitigation, evaluation of agricultural nonpoint source policies, and the design of payment for environmental service programs.
About the initiative
The effort began as a Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee independent initiative in March 2019, after Kurt Stephenson and professors in the Department of Biological Systems Engineering at Virginia Tech, Zach Easton and Brian Benham, proposed the idea of a report that would identify gaps and uncertainties in system response—physical, chemical, biological, and socioeconomic—that impact efforts designed to attain water quality standards in the Chesapeake Bay.