Bay pollution holds steady, report finds

Scant rainfall is seen as keeping Chesapeake contaminants down

October 16, 2002|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

The Chesapeake Bay is still ailing and would have declined further if the drought hadn't cut the flow of contaminants in the past year, according to an assessment by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

The foundation issued its fifth annual report on the bay yesterday, scoring the nation's largest estuary at 27 on a scale of 100, the same score as last year.

Because of increased dumping of toxic chemicals, the bay would have scored worse if the region had had a normal amount of rainfall, according to Will C. Baker, foundation president. Less rain meant less runoff of nitrogen and phosphorus into the bay, Baker said.

A total of 29 inches of rain has been recorded at Baltimore-Washington International Airport in the 13-month period ending Sept. 30, which is 36 percent less than the normal 46 inches, according to the National Weather Service.

Baker said the bay will improve only when officials in Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania provide funding for programs recommended in an agreement the states reached two years ago that pledged support for upgrading sewer plants, slowing sprawl and restoring thousands of acres of underwater grasses, wetlands and stream buffers.

The score is based on 13 factors, including the clarity of the water and the amount of shellfish and wetlands.

The bay would score 100 only with the pristine quality that English explorer Capt. John Smith described when he first sailed the Chesapeake in 1607.

Baker said he realizes that restoring the bay to its 1607 purity is impossible. But he hopes it can be restored to a score of 40 by 2010.

He also said the bay has improved significantly since it "bottomed out" in 1983, a year it would have scored a 23.

In releasing the report yesterday, Baker called for spending $20 billion over the next 10 years to implement the recommendations in the Chesapeake 2000 Agreement that was signed by officials from Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia. The agreement set no deadlines and provided no funds for implementing improvements.

Baker said costs for improving the bay will increase if the states delay enacting legislation and funding initiatives that were part of the agreement.

"We cannot save the bay on the cheap," he said.

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