Carper, Cardin Highlight Water Quality Improvements in Chesapeake Bay

SNOW HILL, Md. – Today, U.S. Sens. Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.) joined farmers and agricultural representatives from Maryland and Delaware, along with representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency, to highlight water quality improvements in the Chesapeake Bay. These improvements are the result of partnerships forged over a decade ago between agriculture, environment and government to make changes to agriculture industry practices.

The Chesapeake Bay’s watershed is 64,000 square miles, includes parts of six states, including Maryland and Delaware, as well as the District of Columbia, and is home to more than 17 million people. Ongoing efforts to improve the water quality of the Bay intensified following President Obama’s Executive Order in 2010 that required the EPA to put a “pollution diet” plan in place for the Chesapeake Bay that included implementation plans for all states in the watershed.  The plans are to drastically reduce total maximum daily loads (TMDL) of nutrients in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed by 2025.

“Farmers, being stewards of the land, are contributing to the water quality improvements we’re seeing in local waterways and the Bay,” said EPA Regional Administrator Shawn M. Garvin. “However, we all recognize that there’s more work to be done. By putting into action the states’ watershed implementation plans and other partnership efforts, we can achieve our shared interest of thriving, profitable agriculture and a restored Chesapeake Bay.”

In the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s 2012 State of the Bay report, five of 13 indicators improved, seven stayed the same, and only one declined. Dissolved oxygen, nitrogen/phosphorus levels, and blue crabs showed the most improvement. Levels of dissolved oxygen show the greatest improvement of any indicator.  The summer of 2012 saw the smallest “dead zone,” the area of the Bay where there is not enough oxygen for aquatic life to survive, since 1985. The EPA recently issued its 2011-2012 Bay Barometer report, which also shows decreasing amounts of nitrogen, phosphorous and sediment and fewer “dead zones” in the Bay.

“The Chesapeake Bay is our region’s greatest natural resource and these newly released reports clearly show that ‘best practices’ by farmers can help make a real difference in improving and sustaining the overall health the Bay,” said Senator Cardin, the chair of the Water and Wildlife Subcommittee of the Environment and Public Works Committee.  “The federal-state-local partnership that has been forged over decades can drastically reduce nutrients that are contaminating the Bay.”  

In 1999, then-Governor Carper formed the Nutrient Management Commission from the agriculture, environment and science fields, with the goal of decreasing the amount of TMDLs that flowed into the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. Today that Commission’s work is viewed as a model by other states and all Delaware farmers have nutrient management plans in place. In addition, Delaware’s Department of Agriculture and the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service work closely with Delaware farmers to ensure funding and implementation of best practices such as cover crops, vegetated buffers, storm water retention systems and drip irrigation among others.

“These positive results in the Chesapeake Bay are evidence that we can have both a clean Chesapeake Bay and sustainable, profitable farming on the Delmarva Peninsula,” said Senator Carper. “Federal support for farm stewardship through conservation practices is a good investment that is paying off. While we should all be proud of the important work our farmers do — not only feeding the world but also changing the Chesapeake Bay for the better — these reports show that there’s still progress that can be made.”