Former state senator speaks on bay conditions
Discusses nutrients, agriculture and the political will creased for the fourth straight year, marking progress in improving water quality.
When presenting the reasons behind the excessive nutrients that go into the bay, Winegrad noted agriculture as the major contributor.
According to data from the Chesapeake Bay Program that Winegrad presented Tuesday, agriculture accounted for nearly half of nitrogen, half of phosphorus and 60 percent of the sediments that go into the bay.
“No other industry, none, not steel-making, nothing in this country, collectively pollutes more than agriculture,” he said. “We are blessed with the food supply, but much of our grains” go overseas and are used to feed the animals.
Even though every watershed is different as its dominating source of pollution differs, Winegrad said the role of agriculture cannot be ignored anywhere.
“You want to clean the St. Mary’s River in this area, you ignore agriculture? You can wish all you want, you can do all the feel-good plantings of trees, stop all the development, it still won’t work,” he said.
Toward the end of the presentation, Michelle Wood, a graduate of Leonardtown High School who is visiting home for summer break from college, asked Winegrad what changes in partisanship for environmental funding he has observed over the years.
“I would say right now the environmental movement is at its lowest ebb since I’ve been an adult,” Winegrad said. “What I would say has changed radically is that the environment doesn’t matter anymore in most elections.”
When he was in the Maryland legislature from 1978 to 1994, Winegrad said he constantly worked with colleagues from both parties and that kind of bi-partisanship doesn’t happen much anymore.
“The political will has wilted,” he said. “I would say right now it’s broken down to partisan lines that [the environment] has become a non-issue.”
In addition, Winegrad said people nowadays are no longer connected to nature.
There are fewer people who fish, hunt and go swimming, he said. That disconnection with nature could also contribute to peoples’ disinterest in the environment.
To restore the bay, Winegrad suggested everyone start by decreasing individual pollution.
“I’m not trying to guilt anybody because I live like you do,” he said. But “all of us need to pollute less.”
In addition to individual efforts, he summarized other critical elements to restoring the bay: requiring best management practices for agricultural pollutants and better animal manure control, changing development patterns through state and local land use legislation with a no forest net-loss policy, requiring stormwater retrofits, no net pollution in new development and fix septic systems.
A former state senator lamented that agricultural runoff continues to be a major polluter of the Chesapeake Bay, and said everyone needs to do their part to pollute less if local waterways are going to improve.
Gerald Winegrad, who represented the Annapolis area for 16 years, first as a delegate and then as a state senator, spoke about the state of the Chesapeake Bay Tuesday at St. Mary’s College of Maryland in an event hosted by the college and the St. Mary’s River Watershed Association.
“I ran for office because of my environmentalism,” he said to the crowd of close to 40 people. “I dedicated my work and my life to conservation and the environment.”
Now retired, Winegrad taught courses on bay restoration and wildlife management at the University of Maryland.
“The best thing about this presentation is I’m not paid for by anybody. I’m not looking for a job. I don’t have to do anything but to tell the truth, which is what I always did anyways regardless of the consequences,” he said.
Winegrad said his presentation was a call to action “because we are not where we need to be” on restoring the bay.
The main reason that caused the bay’s decline was excessive nutrients and sediments. If the audience learned nothing else, Winegrad said he hoped they would walk away knowing that “we have not adequately reduced excessive nutrients.”
In June, scientists estimated the size of “dead zones” in Chesapeake Bay this summer to be at nearly 1.9 cubic miles, larger than the average of 1.7 cubic miles recorded in the past three decades. Dead zones are caused by excessive nutrient pollution, primarily from human activities such as agriculture and wastewater.
Excessive nutrients can stimulate an overgrowth of algae, which then sinks and decom- poses in the water. That process uses oxygen in the water, leaves areas of water with low oxygen and causes fish and other marine life to die or leave the area.
In addition to creating dead zones, algae also worsens water clarity, which makes it harder for bay grass to grow. And underwater grasses filter out nutrients and sediment, reduce erosion, and provide habitat and protection for species like the blue crab.
“We need to bring back the grasses,” Winegrad said.
In May, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources reported that underwater grass in the Chesapeake Bay has in-
Former state senator Gerald Winegrad speaks about the state of the Chesapeake Bay Tuesday at St. Mary’s College of Maryland.