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Last chance to save the bay [Letter]

Environmental PollutionAgricultureConservationEcosystemsChesapeake Bay Foundation

The Chesapeake Bay, one of Maryland's greatest assets, is currently being threatened. Yet the Maryland legislature is again poised to delay action ("Senators seek to stall pollution regulations," March 10).

The Chesapeake Bay is currently under siege from colossal factory chicken farms and the monumental amounts of pollution they produce. Approximately 13.1 million pounds of phosphorus reached the bay during 2012, and more than half of that pollution came from agriculture.

Phosphorous pollution poses a very real danger to the bay, creating enormous dead zones, spanning vast ranges of aquatic ecosystems that were previously rich in biodiversity and fishing opportunities. Now, those delicate ecosystems are replaced by massive algae blooms that die quickly and consume huge amounts of oxygen as they decay. As a result, oxygen in the water decreases drastically, effectively suffocating all aquatic life in the ecosystem.

But there is help for this pollution nightmare. The Phosphorous Management Tool developed by scientists at the University of Maryland would, if implemented, have the potential to regulate and decrease the amount of phosphorus entering the bay from agriculture by tracking which farms pollute the most.

The updated PMT reflects more than 10 years of research, and UM scientists Donald Boesch, Russ Brinsfield, Frank Coale and Joshua McGrath state that "without action, high phosphorus 'hot spots' will continue to contribute phosphorus to surface waters, counteracting our best practices elsewhere."

Simply put, no amount of bay cleanup efforts will have a significant impact if we do not cut off the pollution from the source.

The Chesapeake Bay watershed is home to more than 17 million people, with about 150,000 new people moving to the area each year. There are more than 100,000 streams, creeks and rivers in the watershed and every citizen in the area lives within a few miles of one of these tributaries. Therefore, no one will be unaffected by the pollution of the bay.

Environmentally, the bay supports more than 2,700 species of plants and animals, including 348 species of fin fish and 173 species of shellfish, and it produces about 500 million pounds of seafood per year.

A Chesapeake Bay Foundation report stated that between 1998 and 2006, crabbing¿related jobs in Maryland and Virginia declined by 40 percent, from 11,246 to 6,760. The health of not only the bay ecosystem but also Maryland's economy depends upon the cleanup of the watershed.

Maryland needs to act quickly and effectively if it is to have any hope of restoring the bay to a healthy and fully functioning ecosystem.

Maryland committed to updating the PMT in 2011, and after four years of delay, Gov. Martin O'Malley's administration has finally pledged to implement this long overdue tool by the end of 2014.

However, lobbyists for big agricultural corporations are seeking additional delays, until 2017 or later. And the legislature has bent over backward to accommodate the agricultural industry through legislation or the budget.

The PMT must be implemented as soon as possible if we are to save this precious ecosystem. There are nearly 18,000 local governments in the bay watershed, including towns, cities, counties and townships. So speak up! The Maryland legislature is currently looking at several creative ways to delay implementing the PMT, some of which attempt to put off implementation indefinitely. Let your elected officials know how important the Chesapeake Bay is to you and your community.

Tess Fields

The writer is an intern with Environment Maryland.

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Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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