Bay advocates note incomplete success 'Great progress' seen in areas


The decade-old effort to restore Chesapeake Bay got passing marks -- but with several "incompletes" -- from the bay region's leading environmental group yesterday.

At a time when public schools are handing out report cards, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation issued a mixed evaluation of what Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, the District of Columbia and the federal government have done so far to reverse the bay's decline.

While finding that "great progress has been made," mainly in cleaning up sewage discharges and industrial pollution, the Annapolis-based environmental group said that the states and federal government need to do much more on virtually every front.

"After decades of decline, we believe the Chesapeake Bay is now improving," said William C. Baker, the foundation's president. The effort's emphasis on cooperation among states and federal agencies makes it an international model for restoring coastal waters, he said.

But Mr. Baker warned that the bay's recovery could be undermined unless the states follow through with pledges to curb suburban sprawl, reduce toxic pollution, protect forests and wetlands, and crack down on overfishing.

"Simply maintaining the status quo would sell future generations short," he said.

Since the multistate bay restoration effort began in late 1983, the program has spent hundreds of millions of dollars and produced a 2-foot-thick stack of plans and policies dealing with everything from agricultural pollution to public education.

The foundation's 40-page report praised the states and the Environmental Protection Agency for setting specific goals for curbing nutrient pollution (to be cut by 40 percent by the end of the decade) and for restoring underwater grasses (from 70,000 acres now to 114,000 acres).

The states and EPA must keep pushing to reduce nutrient pollution, the foundation said, because research indicates that is the bay's overriding water quality problem.

Nitrogen and phosphorus from sewage discharges, farm and suburban runoff and air pollution over-enrich the bay's waters, killing underwater grasses and rendering vast stretches of deep water unfit for fish and shellfish.

Other plans, especially those aimed at restoring bay grasses and protecting wetlands and fish, are good as far as they go, but they have not been completely carried out. And plans for reducing toxic pollution, restoring oysters and cleaning up military bases need to be strengthened, the report said.

Parochialism has hindered action to reduce the harm caused by growth and development, the report charged. Planners project a 20 percent increase in the region's 15 million population by the year 2020, Mr. Baker noted.

Dr. Michael Hirshfield, the foundation's senior science adviser, said the states and EPA collectively have earned "passing" grades so far.

"But it's only the first semester of freshman year," he added. The EPA must play a bigger role, he said.

State and federal officials also should increase the role of the public in decision making, and set goals that are measurable, Mr. Baker said.

An aide to Gov. William Donald Schaefer and the chief of the EPA's Chesapeake Bay Program office said they agreed with much of the foundation's assessment.

"We've done the easy part; now comes the hard part," said Cecily Majeras, the governor's bay program coordinator. Ms. Majeras said the program's biggest challenge is "finding enough money," and she challenged the foundation to decide what the spending priorities should be.

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