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Growing signs of a cleaner Chesapeake Bay

Annual monitoring of underwater grass abundance by the Chesapeake Bay Program shows a 21 percent increase in grasses, a hopeful sign that efforts to reduce pollution in the Bay are working.

A recent study released in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that for the first time since they have been monitoring the health of the Chesapeake Bay underwater grasses have surpassed 100,000 acres ("Scientists: Record abundance of underwater grasses shows Chesapeake Bay initiatives are working," April 24). This is great news! The original study taken after Hurricane Agnes found that bay grasses were declining drastically due to excess algae stealing sunlight from these grasses. It was determined that this was due to excess nutrients entering the bay. It is believed that the tremendous growth in the human population in the Chesapeake Bay watershed causes more runoff due to open areas being paved over. However, the main focus for the last 30 years has been agricultural runoff.

It appears that the sacrifices that farmers have been making to protect the bay in that time are paying off. We could not have done it without the Cover Crop Program and the Maryland Agricultural Water Quality Cost Share (MACS). It is critical that the Maryland General Assembly securely fund these programs. Conservation programs at U.S. Department of Agriculture need to be properly funded in the next Farm Bill.

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There are two issues that could negate the progress that we have made. Several years ago, a prominent Carroll County dairy farm had a minor spill when they were pumping their manure storage with a few hundred gallons of manure entering a nearby stream. It was front page news for several days. Last month, during a severe storm, one of Baltimore's waste treatment plants overflowed with millions of gallons of raw sewage dumped into the Jones Falls and eventually into the Baltimore Harbor. Sadly, this is such a frequent occurrence that it was pretty much ignored. According to Colby Ferguson of Maryland Farm Bureau, that was the equivalent to a year's manure production from an 800-cow dairy. The difference is that the farmer utilizes his manure to grow his crops but the raw sewage only supplies nutrients for algae growth that kills bay grasses. Waste treatment plants all across the Chesapeake Bay watershed are contributing vast amounts of nutrients to the bay. There needs to be a stronger focus on correcting this problem.

The second is continued funding for the Chesapeake Bay Program. The National Academy of Sciences report states that this is, "one of the few places on Earth where long-term improvements can be linked to human efforts on a large scale. It is one of the pre-eminent ecological restorations to date."

The continued improvement of the Chesapeake Bay is good news that needs to be continued.

Allen Stiles, Westminster

The writer is president of the Maryland State Grange.

Send letters to the editor to talkback@baltimoresun.com. Please include your name and contact information.

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