Grades going up
The last couple of months have brought us some welcome news on the Chesapeake Bay and its Eastern Shore tributaries, the Chester and Sassafras rivers. All three are showing improvement in health and water quality.
Last month, the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science gave the Bay a “C” on its report card, one of the best scores it received in the last few decades. Also in May, the Sassafras River Association gave its eponymous waterway a “C+” for 2015 test results. The Chester River also was given a “C+” a month earlier by its corresponding river association.
“What we are experiencing is what’s being experienced across the Bay,” said Sassafras Riverkeeper Emmett Duke last month of the improved marks.
In reporting on the Bay’s score, scientists credited moderate weather, upgraded sewage treatment systems, better farming techniques and other factors for the improved health. The individual region breakdowns for the Bay reportedly showed no drop-offs in grades from the previous year.
“We’re kind of at the border of ‘at risk,’” said Chester River Association Watershed Manager Tim Trumbauer in April. “We’re trending the right way, but still at risk.”
The three groups agree that excessive nutrients and sediment continue to pose problems for the Bay and its tributaries.
“Higher concentrations of nitrogen in the mid to upper reaches of the tributaries can, in part, be attributed to runoff of excess nitrogen from fertilizers, power plants, and factories getting into creeks, streams, rivers, and groundwater that then feed into the Bay,” the Bay report card reads.
Efforts continue to be made — and improved upon — to curb the pollution loading in the Bay watershed.
Locally, Trumbauer spoke about how the work of farmers, homeowners and officials are gradually improving the health of the Chester River. Duke listed various restoration projects undertaken by the Sassafras River Association and the community.
Tree plantings in Worton Park and a treatment wetland at Turner’s Creek are just two examples of the partnerships made in our community to help improve local waterways.
“So what we do on land does have an effect,” Trumbauer said. “We need to up our game to continue the good work.”
Improving the health of our waterways is not a short game. The damage we have inflicted over centuries of carelessness cannot be reversed overnight. But enough doom and gloom. What these three reports show is the good news, that our efforts over the years of cleaning up our waterways are paying off.
“Things are very hopeful,” Duke said last month, and we agree.
Farmers continue to improve their operations, curbing excessive nutrient use and sediment runoff. They should be applauded for their continued cooperation. They recognize the importance of being good stewards of the earth and we recognize their efforts.
We likewise applaud homeowners who take what steps they can to improve our waterways as well, such as curbing the use of lawn fertilizer; forward-thinking officials who look for projects that bolster community cleanup efforts; and the teachers in our schools who continue to incorporate environmental education in the classroom, instilling eco-conscientiousness in young people.
“It’s been positive, but we can’t take our foot off the gas yet,” Trumbauer said. “We’re the problem, but we’re also the solution.”
Let’s all continue to look for ways large and small that we can make a positive impact on the health of the Bay and our rivers, so that maybe we may live to see those middling — but improved — grades turned into top marks.