Tilghman Island is a great place to live. There are eagles, blue heron, Canada geese, fox, osprey, crabs, oysters, rockfish and many more treasures that contribute making it special. There are lots of wonderful people on the island — families, watermen, retired folks, hunters and business owners — and all contribute to a vibrant, living community. The country store opens at 5 a.m. to provide breakfast to the people who have to get going early to earn a living — many on the water. The Tilghman Fire Company hosts two events a year, when the residents of Tilghman invite the rest of the world to enjoy the benefits of this special place.
What makes Tilghman so special is that it is located smack dab in the Chesapeake Bay.
I am not an environmental scientist, or a farmer, or a politician — what I am is a professional engineer. And as an engineer, my training and experience teaches me to seek and discern facts. Analysis of the Bay’s health is done every two years by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. The analysis looks at a dozen different indicators, including water clarity, toxins, crabs, oyster and rockfish health and population, as well as nitrogen and phosphorus pollution. While the rate of nitrogen pollution has improved, the rate of phosphorus pollution has not.
The source of the phosphorus is the fertilizer used in agriculture. The agriculture community requires the fertilizer to make the crops grow. The University of Maryland College of Agriculture and Natural Resources says that if enough fertilizer is applied to meet the crops’ nitrogen needs, then much more phosphorus is being applied than is needed by the crops. Due to the high phosphorus sorption capacity of most soils, the excess applied phosphorus tends to persist in the soil and not be rapidly lost to the atmosphere or to groundwater, as is the case for nitrogen. So what is needed is a way to measure the phosphorus needed for agriculture and at the same time, control and prevent unneeded phosphorus from going into the bay.
The Phosphorus Management Tool (PMT) was developed as a practical means to identify critical areas where there is a high risk for phosphorus loss from agriculture production fields and guide effective management practices to reduce the potential for phosphorus loss to surface waters. It seems to make sense to determine where there is too much phosphorus, and stop applying it there, and at the same time determine areas where more phosphorus can be applied safely. As an engineer, that logic has an appeal.
In a meeting on Dec. 17, 2014, sponsored by the Maryland League of Conservation Voters, this topic was extensively discussed. Our newly elected state senator, Addie Eckardt, said the Eastern Shore delegation would not support the PMT because the farming community inputs were not considered. The development of a phosphorus index tool tailored to Maryland’s soil, agricultural management practices, climate, topography, hydrology and surface water characteristics began in 1994. Surely, the agricultural community has had time to weigh in.
More recently, our new governor, Larry Hogan, withdrew the proposed PMT regulations that were to take effect on Feb. 2. All these actions appear to define an attitude of not caring about the welfare of our Bay.
The health of the Chesapeake Bay affects all of us who live in this unique part of the world. “All of us” includes the people who live here and depend on the Bay. WE are the watermen, the farmers, the boaters, the environmentalists, the young people, the Moms, the Dads. There is a way to measure phosphorus runoff and limit it to a reasonable level to benefit ALL OF US. It is reasonable to expect the representatives we elect to support the health of the treasure we ALL rely on.
Larry Pifer of Tilghman is a member of the Talbot County Democratic Forum,www.demforum.com.