Letter to the Editor: Phosphorous Management Tool can save the Chesapeake Bay

Dear Editor,

One of Maryland’s greatest assets is currently being threatened—the Chesapeake Bay.  But still the Maryland Legislature is poised to delay action.

The Chesapeake Bay is under siege from colossal factory chicken farms and the monumental amounts of pollution they produce. About 13.1 million pounds of phosphorus reached the Bay during 2012, and more than half of that pollution came from agriculture.

Phosphorous pollution poses a very real danger to the Bay—enormous dead zones, spanning vast ranges of aquatic ecosystems that were previously rich in biodiversity and fishing opportunities.  Now, those delicate ecosystems are replaced by massive algae blooms that die quickly and consume huge amounts of oxygen as they decay. As a result, oxygen in the water decreases dramatically, effectively suffocating all aquatic life in the ecosystem.

But there is help for this pollution nightmare: the Phosphorous Management Tool (PMT), developed by scientists at the University of Maryland (UMD), if implemented by the State of Maryland, has the potential to regulate and drastically decrease the amount of phosphorus entering the Bay due to the agriculture industry by tracking which farms pollute the most.

Clean the Bay day (Wikipedia)
Clean the Bay day (Wikipedia)

The updated PMT reflects more than ten years of scientific research, and UMD scientists Drs. Donald Boesch, Russ Brinsfield, Frank Coale, and Joshua McGrath state that “without action, high phosphorus ‘hot spots’ will continue to contribute phosphorus to surface waters, counteracting our best practices elsewhere.” Simply put, no amount of Bay cleanup efforts will have a significant impact if we do not cut off the pollution from the source.

The Chesapeake Bay watershed is home to more than 17 million people, with about 150,000 new people moving to the area each year. There are more than 100,000 streams, creeks, and rivers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed and every citizen in the area lives within a few miles of one of these tributaries. Therefore, no one will be unaffected by the pollution of the Bay.

Environmentally, the Bay supports more than 2,700 species of plants and animals, including 348 species of finfish and 173 species of shellfish, and produces about 500 million pounds of seafood per year. A Chesapeake Bay Foundation report stated that between 1998 and 2006, crabbing‐related jobs in Maryland and Virginia declined 40 percent, from 11,246 to 6,760. The health of not only the Bay ecosystem, but also the Maryland economy, depends upon the cleanup of the watershed. Maryland needs to act quickly and effectively if there is any hope of restoring the Bay to a healthy and fully functioning ecosystem.

Maryland committed to updating the PMT in 2011, and after four years of delay, Governor O’Malley’s Administration has finally pledged to implement this long overdue tool by the end of 2014. However, lobbyists for big agricultural corporations are seeking additional delay, until 2017 or later.  And the legislature has bent over backwards to accommodate the agricultural industry- through legislation or the budget.

The PMT should be implemented as soon as possible if we are to save this precious ecosystem. There are nearly 18,000 local governments in the Bay watershed, including towns, cities, counties and townships. So speak up. The Maryland Legislature is currently looking at several creative ways to delay implementing the PMT, some of which attempt to put off implementation indefinitely. Let your elected officials know how important the Chesapeake Bay is to you and your community.


Tess Fields
Environment Maryland