The governors of the six Chesapeake Bay states, the mayor of Washington, D.C., and the chair of the Chesapeake Bay Commission have submitted a letter to the U.S. Congress to include in the reauthorized Federal Surface Transportation Act a policy to reduce polluted stormwater runoff from federal highway construction and reconstruction projects.
Nationwide, roads and related infrastructure make up at least two-thirds of all paved, impervious surfaces, according to the letter. These areas promote runoff because they do not allow water to naturally soak into the ground. When it rains, pollutants from tailpipe emissions, fluid leaks, break linings and tire wear are picked up in runoff and carried to the nearest sewer or waterway.
The letter points to a 2002 study in Maryland that showed highways in the state accounted for 22 percent of nitrogen and 32 percent of phosphorus coming from urban areas. The study showed that highways and mobile sources annually contribute 36 million pounds of nitrogen that pollute Maryland’s land, air and water. By comparison, wastewater treatment plants contribute 17 million pounds of nitrogen per year.
Most federally funded highways were constructed without the stormwater runoff controls needed to protect the health of local streams, creeks and rivers. As a result, 66 percent of the waterways listed on the national Clean Water Act 303(d) list of impaired waters are polluted because of highway runoff.
Today, the green infrastructure techniques that relieve these impacts are well-known and, according to the letter, should be included in the reauthorized Federal Surface Transportation Act.
The letter was addressed to Reps. James L. Oberstar (D-MN) and John L. Mica (R-FL), who serve as chair and ranking member, respectively, of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.
For more information, read the full letter to Congress.
Last week, a family friend who teaches at a local middle school invited me to her classroom. She wanted someone to teach her sixth graders about sediments, nutrients, and the Bay. I agreed, and took Krystal, one of my co-workers, along. We had an amazing day. All in all, I think we talked to about 300 incredibly smart 6th graders! They knew that sediment clouds the water and covers any organisms on the bottom, that the watershed is made up of six states (naming them was more challenging), and that oysters used to be able to filter the entire volume of the Bay in three days. (It now takes almost a year!) The kids had a great background of information, so we added to it a little bit.
We’ve all heard that nutrients in the Bay are harmful and cause algal blooms and dead zones. The best question of the day, however, came from a student who asked, “If plants need nutrients to grow, why aren’t the bay grasses growing a lot and providing oxygen for the animals at the bottom?” I had been waiting for someone to ask that! He was right, the plants have all the nutrients that they could ever want; the problem is that the plants don’t get enough light. Algae float near the surface, soak up sunlight and nutrients, and form a layer over the water’s surface. That layer, (plus the murkiness due to sediment), blocks sunlight. Not enough reaches the bottom to let the grasses grow. As the plants and older generations of algae die, they sink to the bottom and decompose. Decomposers use oxygen. Without plants to provide oxygen, whatever was left in the water is sucked out by decomposers, leaving an anoxic or “dead” zone every summer.
Krystal and I had a wrap-up discussion with the students, where we all listed things we could do to help the Bay. They knew the basics, like recycling and car-pooling, and that every little bit helps. They were excited to hear other opportunities, though. Some students live on waterfront property, and were eager to go home and ask their parents if they could grow oyster spat for a year. Some have yards that are fertilized twice a year, and were concerned when it was suggested that they skip the spring treatments and wait until fall. Several students even asked if there was someplace they could volunteer.
Krystal and I left that day feeling like we’d made a small impact, but apparently we did more than we thought. The next day, I was handed a hundred or so thank-you letters from the students. Most were the typical “thanks for coming,” but several got me really excited! One said that they went home and told their dad not to fertilize this year. Another said that she’ll make sure her parents clean up after the family dog. A third got permission from her parents to raise oysters and wanted more information. All of this reaction came out of a 30-minute talk! The kids were so eager to help, once they saw the real problem. It didn’t take much; an explanation of what’s happening, a picture of the Bay from last summer, and some easy tips to help out. All they needed was to know what they can do.
I sincerely hope they continue their enthusiasm through adulthood, and I hope it’s as contagious for everyone else as it was for Krystal and me!
At its annual meeting on May 12, the Chesapeake Executive Council set new short-term goals to reduce pollution to the Bay and dramatically accelerate the pace of restoration of the Bay and its rivers.
Instead of pursuing a distant deadline, the seven Bay jurisdictions -- Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware, West Virginia, New York and the District of Columbia -- will now focus on short, two-year goals called milestones. The milestones announced at the 2009 EC meeting are set to be met by December 31, 2011. (View the 2011 milestones to reduce pollution.)
Many states will significantly increase the pace of cleanup.
By meeting these and future milestones, the Bay jurisdictions will put in place all pollution control measures necessary for a restored Bay no later than 2025.
“We have charted a new course for the Chesapeake Bay’s recovery that will succeed because it includes the short-term goals necessary to make steady progress and is backed by federal and state leaders who share a profound conviction to protect our environment,” said Virginia Governor Timothy M. Kaine, chairman of the Chesapeake Executive Council.
Bay restoration will be intensified by an Executive Order, issued by President Obama, that declares the Chesapeake a national treasure and increases the federal commitment to restoring the Bay. The Executive Order includes:
Further federal action is coming from the U.S. EPA, which is creating the Chesapeake TMDL (Total Maximum Daily Load). The TMDL is essentially a pollution diet for the Bay that will drive the six states and D.C. to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus entering the waterways in their states that flow to the Bay.
Under the Executive Order, the EPA will also be developing strategies to ensure compliance and enforcement with pollution laws throughout the watershed. Additionally, the Clean Air Interstate Rule will reduce nitrogen pollution to the Bay by an estimated 10 million pounds annually beginning in 2010.
The Chesapeake Executive Council establishes the Bay Program's policy agenda. Participating in the meeting were:
More than 60 nonprofit organizations from throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed have launched a new campaign called “Choose Clean Water” that will help local communities clean up and protect the waterways that flow to the Bay.
The “Choose Clean Water” campaign is the first coordinated effort by the newly formed Chesapeake Bay Coalition, a partnership of national, regional and local nonprofit organizations working together to push for stronger federal action on Bay restoration.
“Choose Clean Water” has three specific policy goals:
The campaign will highlight where actions to protect the Chesapeake need to be taken and who is responsible to take those actions. The Chesapeake Bay Coalition will track and report on how officials are fulfilling their responsibilities to provide every Bay region resident with clean water.
“We are very excited to be part of this new effort because clean water is important for everyone in our region,” said Bill Street, executive director of the James River Association, a member of the Chesapeake Bay Coalition. “The state of the Chesapeake is only the cumulative result of the many policy decisions made by our leaders every day, and together we will provide the public voice and the mandate for change.”
The Chesapeake Bay Coalition currently has more than 60 member organizations, including national organizations such as American Rivers and Ducks Unlimited, regional organizations such as the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy, and local organizations such as Lynnhaven River NOW and the Herring Run Watershed Association.
“By coordinating our experiences, our expertise, and our members, we will be able to speak with a clear, strong voice to make the tough choices that will give us clean water,” said Tony Caligiuri, regional executive director at the National Wildlife Federation, the organization coordinating the coalition.
For more information about the Chesapeake Bay Coalition and the “Choose Clean Water” campaign, visit choosecleanwater.org.