Tuesday, December 28, 2010

CBF Report: Chesapeake Bay Health Improving, But Still Critical

There is good news and bad, according to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. The Bay is showing encouraging signs of rebounding, but is still in critical condition as a result of pollution according to a new report issued today.
Click here to see comments by CBF President Will Baker.
The numeric index of the Bay's health jumped three points from 2008 to 2010, with eight of 15 indicators rising. The indicator for the health of the blue crab population spiked 15 points, as the Bay's population increased significantly last year. Also, underwater grasses showed steady progress for the fourth year in a row.
But the overall health index of the Bay is 31 out of 100, which means it is still a system dangerously out of balance.
The report is a comprehensive measure of the Bay's health, evaluating 13 indicators: oysters, shad, crabs, striped bass (rockfish), underwater grasses, wetlands, forested buffers, resource lands, toxics, water clarity, dissolved oxygen, and phosphorus and nitrogen pollution. CBF scientists compile and examine the best available historical and up-to-date information for each indicator and assign it an index score and letter grade. Taken together, these indicators offer an assessment of Bay health.
“Let’s celebrate actions taken by Pennsylvanians as we witness signs of improvement, while concurrently rededicating efforts to fully restore the Bay - which still operates at only a third of its potential - to ensure healthy waters and a vigorous economy,” said CBF’s Pennsylvania Executive Director Matt Ehrhart. “We will achieve a clean Bay and healthy streams and rivers here in Pennsylvania if the Commonwealth holds itself accountable to achieving the goals of the Watershed Implementation Plan and complies with the Bay pollution diet (TMDL). With leadership and commitment from both public and private sectors, good news stories such as the return of the blue crab population in the Bay and the success of the streamside forest buffer program in Pennsylvania can continue.”
CBF pointed to the potential impact of Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling as a concern for the future.
"No one disputes the need for clean, efficient energy resources right here at home. Found 5,000 to 9,000 feet below the surface, the Marcellus Shale formation—lying beneath parts of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia—holds huge supplies of clean-burning natural gas.
"Activity in the Marcellus Shale increased dramatically beginning in 2009 and is continuing to accelerate. Today, there are approximately 5,000 drilled or permitted wells in Pennsylvania alone, and some estimate there could be as many as 60,000 wells drilled by 2030 if trends continue.
"There is increasing debate about drilling in the Marcellus Shale. Much of it focuses on drilling methods. Called hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” this method uses a combination of water, sand, and chemicals to drill through the shale until the layer of gas is reached. Drilling advocates claim the process is safe, but a number of scientists and public health experts have called the claim into question. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is studying the issue and intends to publish its findings by the end of 2012.
"There is also concern about compliance. The Pennsylvania Land Trust Association reported last summer that since 2008 there have been 1,641 permit violations, of which 1,056 were deemed 'likely to harm the environment.' Preliminary studies by the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences suggest that water quality may be degraded simply by the sheer number of well pads within a given region.
"Also of concern are drinking water contamination; habitat and forest fragmentation; water withdrawal; management and treatment of waste water; costly stress on roads, bridges, and other infrastructure; siting of drill pads on pristine public lands; and the Pennsylvania General Assembly’s failure to pass a severance tax, which would pay for the public costs of gas extraction.
"Natural gas offers tremendous promise. At the same time, being vigilant about protecting our natural resources is everyone's responsibility."
Later this week, the Environmental Protection Agency must issue a pollution diet for the Bay watershed called a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL). The TMDL is required under the federal Clean Water Act and court rulings.
This diet will require Maryland and other Bay states, and ultimately each local jurisdiction, to ratchet down pollution to local creeks, rivers, and the Bay from all sources, including farms, sewage treatment plants, urban and suburban streets, parking lots and lawns. State and local governments will be held responsible for those reductions or potentially lose federal funding and be denied federal permits.
CBF will be there every step of the way, focusing on ensuring full and fair implementation of the TMDL, which will reduce pollution and create jobs.
The Bay states and the District of Columbia were required to submit a Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP) to EPA specifying how it planned to meet the new pollution diet. Preliminary versions of the each jurisdictions' plans were deficient in specific details, the agency concluded.
CBF has urged the EPA to stand firm in its expectations and to impose consequences on jurisdictions that fail to establish and fully implement plans that meet pollution reduction goals on schedule.
The Bay is at a tipping point. If EPA stands firm, and the states deliver on their commitments, the Bay will become resilient and bountiful.
A full copy of the report is available online.

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