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National Research Council Faults States for Water Protection Failures

For Immediate Release

Baltimore — Today the National Research Council of the National Academies issued a new report covering states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed: “Achieving Nutrient and Sediment Reduction Goals in the Chesapeake Bay: An Evaluation of Program Strategies and Implementation.” 

The report analyzes the tracking and verification of water cleanup actions. The report notes that many current measures are “low-hanging fruit,” like cover crops and sewage treatment plant upgrades.  Very soon, states will need to start implementing more innovative approaches.

“We know what it will take, but we need to redouble our efforts,” said Environment Maryland Policy Advocate Tommy Landers. 

The report finds that Maryland is doing a better job of quality control than its neighbors.  Most states in the bay region were faulted for shortcomings in water pollution reduction actions.

  • Systematic failure to verify whether the pollution reduction measures states are taking credit for are actually happening.
  • Lack of quality assurance of agricultural best management practices.
  • Double counting of pollution reduction measures.
  • Continuing to take credit for some measures after they have expired or are not functioning.

“We can’t learn from our efforts if we don’t even have a clear picture of what people are doing,” added Landers.  “You don’t learn how to succeed when you cheat on the test.”

The report states that throughout the watershed “current accounting [of cleanup practices] cannot on the whole be viewed as accurate."

“A clear example of that is Maryland’s nutrient management plan for farmers. The state seems satisfied when farmers have any plan, but they should ensure those plans are strong enough to protect water quality and make sure farmers actually stick to them,” Landers said.

Despite better quality control, Maryland, like other states, must do much more to meet its water quality goals.  Environment Maryland’s top recommendation is a change to the rules on when manure can be applied to farmland.

Decades of over-application of manure have left many of our lands saturated with phosphorus, a key pollutant in the bay.  The problem stems from a test that farmers use to determine when to apply manure, the so-called Phosphorus Site Index, which many consider deeply flawed.

“Gov. O’Malley should prohibit manure application on soils that are already full of pollution.  That would make him a leader in the Chesapeake Bay region in addressing one of the biggest, but least accounted for, impacts of industrial animal agriculture on our waterways,” added Landers.