Grades go­ing up

Cecil Whig - - OPINION -

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.

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