Many residents of the Chesapeake Bay region know that what they do on land has a direct effect on the Bay's health. But what lots of people don't know is that some of their everyday actions are actually major contributors of pollution.
The good news is that small changes in your daily activities can make a big difference. Consider the amount of people who live in our region. If each of the nearly 17 million Chesapeake Bay watershed residents changed one of the behaviors listed below, imagine how much it could help the Bay's health!
Here are five ways you may be hurting the Chesapeake Bay, and not even know it.
There is an unspoken competition in almost every neighborhood to have the best yard on the block. Everyone wants to hear their neighbors say, "Your flowers look so beautiful!" or ask, "How did your get your grass so green?" People often use large amounts of fertilizer and pest control products to get these results, ignoring the instructions provided on the packaging.
Excess fertilizer doesn't make your lawn extra green. It just gets washed off the grass during rain storms. This polluted runoff makes its way to the nearest storm drain, and then into your local creek or river, which eventually empties into the Bay. Fertilizer and pest control products contribute to "dead zones" that form in the Bay each summer: large areas of the Bay where fish, crabs and other life are unable to exist.
To reduce your yard's impact, limit fertilizing your yard to the fall months, when fewer rain storms allow fertilizer to stay on your lawn. Also, carefully follow product instructions so you don't apply more fertilizer than you need. Finally, pick plants that are native to your area; they require little to no fertilizer or pest control.
For more tips, check out the Plant More Plants campaign.
The one thing that most dog owners can agree on is how much they dislike picking up after their pets. Although most people hold their noses and pick up the waste, some give a few glances around them to see if anyone is watching and keep on walking. They may not know the harm they are doing to their local waterway and the Chesapeake Bay.
In addition to the risk of people stepping in the ignored waste (yuck!), another issue is that pet waste contains harmful nutrients, bacteria (like salmonella) and parasites (like roundworms). Just like fertilizer, runoff can pickup these harmful pollutants and send them straight into storm drains and local streams. Bacteria from pet waste can collect in water bodies, potentially causing infections and bacterial diseases in the people and animals that swim there. Who wants to eat a fish or crab that has been swimming in fecal matter?
Pet waste should be thrown away, flushed, or put in a pet waste composter. Do your part and pick up after your pet. It stinks, but we all need to do it for a clean Bay.
Spring is just around the corner, which means it is time to wash off all the salt and grime your car picked up during the harsh winter months. I bet many of you will think, "What a beautiful spring day. "I'm going to wash my car in the driveway." Think again! Washing your car the old-fashioned way, with a hose and bucket, can actually be very harmful to the environment.
Homeowners use an average of 116 gallons of water to clean their cars, while commercial carwashes use about 60 percent less. Additionally, you may think you are simply removing dirt and bird droppings, but motor oil, exhaust residue, heavy metals from rust and other possibly toxic substances will come off in your car wash. All of this, plus the soap you are using, will flow untreated down your street or driveway into the storm drain.
One way to reduce your impact and still have a clean car is to take it to a professional car wash. There, water is reused several times before it is sent to a treatment plant to be cleaned.
You can still wash you car at home, too. If you do, make sure to use a biodegradable, phosphate-free detergent. Also, wash your car on gravel or grass instead of on pavement. This gives water a chance to be absorbed and naturally filtered through the soil. And be sure to empty your wash bucket into a sink or toilet.
For more information on washing your car the Bay-friendly way, check out this pamphlet from the Environmental Protection Agency.
Remember when you used to be asked, "Paper or plastic?" at the grocery store? Well, we have a third option for you: reusable! Plastic bags are a huge source of trash pollution in the Chesapeake Bay's local rivers and streams. Most bags are used only once to carry purchases from one location to another, and then they are thrown away.
Not only is plastic bag trash unsightly, but the bags can harm animals who try to eat them or get trapped inside of them. And even if you throw them away, plastic bags can take 1,000 years to break down in the environment.
A number of cities and states have passed or are considering fees for plastic bag use. The most well-know is the District of Columbia, which launched its Skip the Bag, Save the River campaign to help clean up the Anacostia River. Maryland may create a similar law that would charge residents for each plastic bag they use.
So why not be ahead of the curve and start using reusable bags? They come in all sizes and colors. Many can even fold down to fit in a purse or glove compartment, making it easy for you to stash them away for your next trip to the store.
If you forget your reusable bags and have to use plastic, make sure you recycle your bags. Most local grocery stores have plastic bag recycling stations, as well as reusable bags for sale.
People have been told many reasons why they need to reduce the amount of time they spend behind the wheel. "You will get more exercise if you walk." "It will save you money on gas." But what about saving the Chesapeake Bay?
Pollution from air accounts for nearly one-third of the nitrogen pollution in the Bay, and vehicles are a large part of that. Like anything else released into the air, exhaust pollution will eventually come back down to the ground. Exhaust from cars also produces polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs. When these toxic chemicals make their way into the water, they attach to sediment particles and can harm oysters, plankton and some species of fish. PAHs are thought cause cancerous tumors in catfish and other bottom-dwelling fish. Learn more about chemical contaminants here.
So help the health of animals and humans living in our region by driving less. Carpool to work, use public transportation or combine shopping trips.
For more ways to help, read our How To's and Tips page.
A new report by Environment Maryland details the harmful effects of lawn fertilizer on the Chesapeake Bay and explains the steps that should be taken to reduce this pollutant and clean up local waterways.
Lawn fertilizer contains the nutrients nitrogen and phosphorus, which are major sources of pollution in the Bay and its rivers. When homeowners apply too much fertilizer to their lawns, the nutrients can run off into local storm drains when it rains. Excess nutrients can also seep into groundwater, which eventually makes its way into the Bay's streams and rivers.
Turf grass is now the largest crop in Maryland. In 2009, 1.3 million acres were planted with turf, compared with 1.5 million acres for all other crops combined. While farmers are required to develop nutrient management plans and control polluted runoff on their land, there are few rules for homeowners and lawn care companies to follow for fertilizer applications.
The Maryland Department of Agriculture reports that “nonfarm use” of fertilizer is quickly catching up with farm fertilizer sales. Estimates suggest that Maryland landowners apply approximately 86 million pounds of nitrogen fertilizer to their lawns each year. According to the report, researchers monitoring one suburban stream near Baltimore found that 56 percent of the nutrients in the water came from lawn fertilizer.
The report concludes that to reduce pollution for lawn fertilizer, lawmakers need to take two broad steps: limit the amount and type of nutrients in the fertilizer itself, and ensure that homeowners and lawn care companies apply less fertilizer to the ground.
For more information, download the full lawn fertilizer report, “Urban Fertilizers and the Chesapeake Bay: An Opportunity for Major Pollution Reduction.
Early March's heavy rains and snow melt caused a flood of nutrients and sediment to flow into the Chesapeake Bay from the Susquehanna River, according to scientists with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
This heavy runoff, which resulted in record poor water clarity in many areas, could harm bay grasses and cause more algae blooms to form in the Bay this spring and summer, especially if the wet weather continues.
Two days after a very heavy rainstorm that doused the region with 2+ inches of rain, the U.S. Geological Survey recorded a peak flow of 485,000 cubic feet/second (cfs) from the Susquehanna River at Conowingo Dam. This was well above the March average of 75,000 cfs and the highest average daily flow rate observed at the dam since September 2004, when floodwaters from Tropical Storm Ivan passed through.
Large amounts of fresh water flowing from the Bay’s rivers can erode stream banks and bring polluted runoff from the land into the Bay. Late winter and early spring are critical times for many of the Bay’s aquatic species. Bay grasses are just beginning to grow and many fish are starting to spawn.
Maryland DNR will continue to monitor water conditions to assess any short- or long-term storm effects of the wet weather.
For more information, visit Maryland DNR's website.
Scientists observed more than 640,000 ducks, geese and swans along Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay shoreline this winter as part of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ annual Midwinter Waterfowl Survey. This is a decline from 2010, when approximately 787,000 waterfowl were counted.
The decline is largely due to fewer Canada geese and snow geese being counted for the survey. Large numbers of geese likely went undetected because they were on farms and other inland habitats. Overall, the wintering Canada geese remained high.
More ducks were counted in 2011 (199,300) than in 2010 (173,700) due to snow and cold weather north of Maryland, according to DNR. In particular, there were more mallards and canvasbacks, as well as an exceptional number of gadwalls on the Susquehanna Flats.
The Midwinter Waterfowl Survey has been conducted annually throughout the United States since the early 1950s. Maryland survey results are ultimately pooled with results from other states to measure wintering waterfowl distribution and populations throughout the Atlantic Flyway, according to DNR Waterfowl Project Leader Larry Hindman.
“The survey is conducted in a coordinated manner across the Atlantic Flyway states to provide an annual index of the population size for important waterfowl species like black ducks, Atlantic brant and tundra swans,” Hindman said.
Visit Maryland DNR’s website to view the full survey results.