Chesapeake Check-In

The Chesapeake Bay has experienced problems similar to those in NC’s estuaries as it relates to nutrient pollution. Low-oxygen “dead zones’ have resulted in persistent fish kills and stressed or diminished aquatic ecosystems.

Area draining to the Bay stretches from from New York to Virginia and has had federally coordinated efforts to curb nutrient pollution since the 1980’s.  These efforts combined with funding to improve wastewater treatment and improved development and agricultural practices have all played a role in improving water quality in the Chesapeake though not as much as bay managers would like.

The news this year is mixed.

Good News: In spite of a predicted larger than average dead zone “due to higher spring flows and nitrogen loading from the Susquehanna and Potomac rivers”,  hypoxia (i.e. low oxygen) in the Bay for the month of July was historically good.

Bad News: Overall, summer hypoxia was average with late summer conditions worse than average.

What’s this mean?  The challenge of reducing nutrient pollution and its associated water quality problems is formidable. As covered previously, sustained effort, political will, and funding are needed to make a positive impact.  Even then, increased population, loss of wetlands and forest, and the misuse of nutrients can overwhelm these efforts, neutralizing progress.  NC is in the process of re-adopting its nutrient rules. In doing so, it should look for opportunities to eliminate pollution loopholes and find ways to strengthen the overall effectiveness of its nutrient reduction strategies.

Chesapeake Hypoxia Trends. Source: Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

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