Scientists monitor fish in the Chesapeake Bay as an indicator of water quality.
It was unfortunate to read a letter in the Baltimore Sun on Jan. 16 (“Bolder action needed for Chesapeake Bay recovery,” Jan. 16) that asserted the Chesapeake Bay Foundation was presenting a falsehood about the acreage of bay grasses. The author wrote that “bay grasses covered 220,000 or more acres not that long ago” and the acreage could have been even more significant “many years ago.” The author did not cite where this information was coming from in the letter.
Researchers at the EPA and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science have kept track of bay grass acreage since 1984. That year, the scientists observed about 38,000 acres of underwater vegetation. By the end of 2017, the number increased to 104,843 acres — the most acreage ever observed by the researchers and the exact figure and context that was highlighted in the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s 2018 State of the Bay report.
It is true that bay grasses once covered a far greater area — by some estimates as much as 400,000 acres of tidal shallow waters were blanketed with underwater grasses. Our State of the Bay score for underwater grasses — a “D” — reflects the fact that grasses are only about one-fourth of historical coverage. However, according to research dating back more than 35 years ago, bay grass acreage has not been anywhere near that historical figure recently.
The author also asserted that the Chesapeake Bay Foundation is supporting a delay on a regulation to prevent poultry farms from dumping manure on soils that can’t take excess nutrients. This is not true. The foundation has regularly lobbied for the policy, known as the phosphorous management tool, to be implemented on the proper timeline. The foundation is continuing to push the Hogan administration, Maryland’s farming community and the General Assembly to fully implement the tool and on time.
We agree with the author that leaders must do more to clean up the Chesapeake Bay, which over the past year suffered from an influx of freshwater due to record rainfall in the region. But we must all strive to use accurate scientific facts and research to frame the debate on how best to do it.
Alison Prost, Annapolis
The writer is Chesapeake Bay Foundation Maryland executive director