Farms, lawns still spoiling the bay


The campaign to clean up Chesapeake Bay will fall short of its goal unless more aggressive efforts are made to curb pollution from farm fields and from city and suburban streets and lawns, says a federal advisory panel.

In a report prepared for bay cleanup officials, a 15-member panel formed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says current efforts to reduce farm and urban runoff are not enough to reduce nutrient pollution by 40 percent by the end of the decade.

That was the central goal of the 1987 bay agreement signed by officials from Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, the federal government and the District of Columbia. Excessive phosphorus and nitrogen from sewage and a variety of other sources are said to be choking the life out of the bay.

Costly sewage treatment plant upgrades have reduced nutrients from such sources, but largely voluntary efforts to get farmers to reduce fertilizer use and to curb runoff from croplands apparently have been less successful, according to the report.

Bay cleanup officials were scheduled to receive the report today in Annapolis, but the meeting was canceled because of the threat of snow.

The panel, representing environmentalists, farmers and foresters, found that farmers in Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania have been slow to sign up for federal and state programs designed to curb runoff pollution and nutrient-laden soil erosion.

The panel also found that official claims of the effectiveness of some measures for controlling runoff -- such as farm ponds -- were exaggerated. There was no evidence water quality had improved significantly from soil conservation efforts so far, the report says.

The panel says new regulations are needed to curb nutrient pollution from farms, but it also calls for federal and state officials to try other, less coercive means of getting farmers' cooperation as well.

"We are not recommending that every farmer be given a permit," says Frances Flanigan, the panel's chairwoman and director of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, an EPA-supported public education group.

Flanigan says the panel believes educational campaigns need to be increased to encourage voluntary cooperation of farmers. But the report also says states should target enforcement efforts at farms and other land uses that are significant sources of nutrient pollution.

Noting that livestock farming is growing as crop cultivation declines, the report urges state officials to target large animal-raising farms for tighter pollution controls, since animal manure is a major source of nutrients entering the bay.

The panel also appeals for better planning to minimize the environmental damage from population growth and development.

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