Chesapeake Bay: Making the Grade

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We’re getting there. That’s the message from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) and the Choose Clean Water Coalition, which released their report card on pollution control in the Chesapeake Bay watershed this past week. But, not surprisingly, we’ve still got a long way to go.

This week’s report card reflects progress made since 2009 when the EPA and watershed jurisdictions agreed to a new plan and timetable – the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint – for cleaning up the Bay by 2025 after more than a decade of disappointing results. The Blueprint sets 2-year milestones for implementing the actions needed to limit nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment pollution to safe levels. The 2012-2013 interim report released this week shows that 5 watershed states – Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware – and the District of Columbia are on track to achieve many of their goals, and in some cases exceed their milestones. But in others, they fall short.

Virginia, for example, got a big thumbs-up for fully meeting its 2013 goal for improving wastewater treatment plants. All of the plants in Virginia now meet the Blueprint’s standards for nutrient pollution. Virginia also surpassed its milestone for urban stream restoration. But it had mixed results in other categories. Virginia improved its use of traditional stormwater control practices, but needs to invest in more modern stormwater infiltration systems to meet Blueprint goals.

Virginia farmers fenced livestock out of more streamsides (with a little help from The Downstream Project’s Steamside Livestock Exclusion video) and increased forest buffers. But the number of acres with grass buffers actually declined. Acreage reported as no-till or in conservation tillage also declined, but the report’s authors blame these low figures on underreporting, and called on state and federal agencies to beef up efforts to capture the full extent of these popular practices. Anyone doubting the value of no-till, conservation tillage, and rotational grzing should hear what Shenandoah Valley farmers have to say in The Downstream Project’s Gaining Ground videos. In their own words, these farmers describe how they have reduced their costs and increased their bottom line. As CBF and its partners release additional report cards in the future, we’ll see just how much these practices have improved water quality as well.

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