Bay vow extended to rivers Environmentalists want greater effort

August 13, 1992|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,Staff Writer

ANNAPOLIS -- The governors of Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia and the mayor of Washington, D.C., yesterday renewed their pledge to restore the Chesapeake Bay and vowed to extend their efforts to cleaning up the rivers that feed into the bay.

But they brushed off criticism from environmentalists that they need to do more to combat toxic chemicals and farm pollution getting into the water.

"We're doing the best we can as fast as we can," said Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who was chosen for a second year to coordinate the multi-state cleanup campaign.

Meeting at the U.S. Naval Academy on the Severn River, the bay region's leaders and the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reaffirmed the goal first set five years ago of reducing nutrient pollution of the bay 40 percent by the end of the decade. But they went beyond that, pledging to hold nutrient pollution down beyond the year 2000 and to expand their cleanup efforts into the bay's 10 major tributaries.

Nutrients -- mainly nitrogen and phosphorus from sewage, acid rain, farms and development -- are over-enriching the bay, creating vast stretches of "dead" water on the bottom in spring and summer where fish, shellfish and aquatic plants cannot live.

"We are making progress, but we have a long way to go," said Mr. Schaefer. He said that reaching the cleanup goal will be difficult to do at a time when governments are strapped for cash. "We have to get smarter if we don't have as much money," the governor said.

EPA Administrator William K. Reilly said his agency plans to step up its enforcement activity in the bay region, cracking down on violators of federal air and water pollution and hazardous-waste laws.

With up to 30 percent of the nitrogen fouling the bay coming from air pollution, Mr. Schaefer and Gov. L. Douglas Wilder of Virginia said they would reintroduce so-called "California car" legislation next year. Bills that would have required new cars to meet California's stringent tailpipe-emission standards were defeated last winter in both states by the auto and oil industries.

However, Maryland's and Virginia's governors said they saw no need for legislation to curb agricultural pollution despite evidence that runoff of fertilizer and animal manure from farms is the single biggest source of nutrients entering the bay. Gov. Robert P. Casey of Pennsylvania is trying to get a bill requiring farmers to control such pollution passed in his state.

While he praised Pennsylvania's governor, Mr. Schaefer said he still prefers asking Maryland farmers to make voluntary efforts to curb nutrient runoff. They will come around once they see that it saves them money, he said, noting how one farmer cut his costs $5,000 by using less fertilizer.

Mr. Schaefer set his own restoration goal for Maryland, pledging to double to about 70,000 acres the current crop of grasses growing on the bay and river bottom in the state. The submerged plants, which provide food and shelter to crabs, fish and waterfowl, are beginning to rebound after almost vanishing in the early 1980s.

No similar pledge was forthcoming from Virginia officials, who reportedly balked at setting specific targets for restoring bay grasses. Indeed, talk of reviving grasses was watered down in the seven-point agreement signed yesterday.

While a draft circulated several weeks ago talked of restoring bay grasses initially to around 120,000 acres bay-wide, about twice the current 62,000 acres, the pact signed yesterday pledges only to use underwater vegetation as a yardstick of the bay cleanup's progress.

William C. Baker, president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said he heard little to ease environmentalists' concerns that the bay restoration effort is losing steam. The compact signed five years ago was a bold step, he said, mainly because it set a numerical goal and a deadline for reducing nutrient pollution.

Now, Mr. Baker said, "we see it getting a little softer, instead of stronger."

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