Chesapeake Bay has reached the midpoint assessment period following a 2010 sanctioned “pollution diet” from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requiring the many jurisdictions included in the watershed to exercise the proper pollution reduction practices by the year 2025.
This “pollution diet” is the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), a set of limits imposed by the EPA that regulates the amount of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment that can be allowed to achieve standards of water quality.
The results of this midpoint assessment were largely encouraging in spite of some recent setbacks, achieving near-record highs for water quality within the watershed. It was found that roughly 40% of the water found in the bay and its tidal tributaries was adherent to the standards of growth for water clarity, oxygen and algae growth from 2014 to 2016 set in place by the EPA.
This continued growth towards purification comes despite setbacks in the realms of funding and failure to meet standards elsewhere.
In September, the EPA’s funding for the Chesapeake program was cut by 20% down to $60 million. This was the fourth straight year a cut had been perpetrated, but past years have seen the cuts restored. Whether or not this cut will go through under a new presidential administration remains to be seen, but such a rollback could have direct consequences on the progress of Chesapeake Bay’s larger cleanup effort.
Another hurdle involved a discovery in November that the Patapsco Wastewater Treatment Plant in Baltimore, Md., had released four times the amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus permitted by the Maryland Department of the Environment (DEP) in 2016, which also posed a threat to the ecosystem and water quality of the watershed.
Despite this potential setbacks, the new data demonstrates a 2% increase in overall growth towards standards compared to the last period of assessment.
On Dec. 19 and 20, Principals’ Staff Committee of the Chesapeake Bay Program will discuss the next phase of the cleanup process, considering climate change, next phase targets and accounting for growth among other things moving forward.