Midpoint assessment nears for Bay

A view of the Tred Avon River from Bellevue. The midpoint assessment for Chesapeake Bay cleanup efforts is approaching. It is meant to inform future cleanup efforts in the next phase to reduce pollution to the estuary.

EASTON — The midpoint assessment for the Chesapeake Bay’s “pollution diet” is approaching, when officials will determine if cleanup progress has advanced and if efforts are working as intended.

States in the Bay watershed are halfway through a set timeframe to reduce pollution to the Chesapeake Bay, in the most recent iteration of attempts to clean the Bay.

The Bay’s “pollution diet” is the Total Maximum Daily Load, which was established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2010 and sets limits on nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment pollution to achieve water quality standards.

Jurisdictions in the watershed — Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, Delaware and Washington, D.C. — have been given until 2025 to put the necessary pollution reduction practices in place. In addition to the midpoint assessment, there have been regular assessments by the Chesapeake Bay Program, which is under the EPA’s umbrella, on progress being made or ground still to cover in Bay restoration.

The general consensus among scientists who closely watch the Bay is that the efforts have been working to reduce pollution and improve things in the Bay like underwater grasses, which have seen resurgence in recent years, and to reduce harmful algae blooms in the water caused by excess nutrients.

Local jurisdictions in places like Maryland’s Eastern Shore have been putting in on-the-ground projects. In addition to county government-sponsored projects, nonprofit organizations like ShoreRivers (formerly Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy) have been working with farmers to install best management practices on their land, as agriculture is a significant contributor to pollution to the Bay, due to over-fertilization on some farm land.

Under Maryland’s Watershed Implementation Plan, which were developed by jurisdictions to help them meet pollution reduction goals, counties also have specific goals to meet.

In recent years, Talbot County has been focusing on reducing runoff pollution from roadways. When water flows quickly, as in a heavy thunderstorm, sediment and nutrients are carried away into Mid-Shore Rivers, causing dirty, cloudy water, algae blooms, and a decline of sea grasses and undersea wildlife habitat.

Talbot started a project in 2015 to retrofit roadside ditches with a “two-stage ditch” to slow water flow and help plants take up more pollution before it washes into local rivers or streams.

The county has also been working to reduce pollution by way of septic systems. Each year, the Maryland Board of Public Works allocates money through the Bay Restoration Fund to the county, which then uses the funding — $995,000 this year — to upgrade failing septic systems on residential properties in the county. Talbot County is also working on installing some sewage extensions to the environmentally sensitive Bay Hundred area.

On Dec. 19 and 20, the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Principals’ Staff Committee will meet to make several policy decisions that will impact the next phase of Bay cleanup, according to the Chesapeake Bay Program.

Policy decisions include recommendations on accounting for growth, how much pollution the Bay can take and still meet water quality standards, climate change, the Conowingo Dam, next phase targets and modeling tools, according to the Chesapeake Bay Program.

Follow me on Twitter @jboll_stardem.

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