Area governments and water utilities’ years of investments to reduce pollutants in local streams, the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers, and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay are making a difference. The Bay watershed—which spans six states and more than 64,000 square miles—is showing clear signs of water quality improvements.
“No other estuary is experiencing the [nutrient] reductions we’re seeing [in the Bay],” said Rich Batiuk, Associate Director for Science, Analysis, and Implementation in the U.S. EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Program Office.
At the Chesapeake Bay and Water Resources Policy Committee’s (CBPC) 7th Annual Bay and Water Quality Forum at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG), Batiuk presented the results of the latest assessment of efforts to reduce nutrient and sediment pollutants in the Bay and restore its living resources.
According to the assessment, the Bay’s summertime dead zone—an area of low to no oxygen that can kill fish and aquatic life—has been steadily decreasing in size. The acreage of underwater grasses in the Bay has tripled over the last 30 years; this vegetation provides food and habitats to wildlife. Batiuk pointed to major investments in wastewater infrastructure and implementation of innovative stormwater management practices in the region as reasons for much of this progress.
Anoxic conditions are areas of water with little or no dissolved oxygen, shrinking available habitat for marine life (Chesapeake Bay Program Office, U.S. EPA).
Despite signs of improvement, there is more work to be done by those who have an interest in improving the health of the Bay—from state governments and federal agencies, to local jurisdictions and water utilities, to farmers and other residents.
The forum was an opportunity for state representatives from the District, Maryland, and Virginia to discuss their plans for further improving water quality.
For example, the District of Columbia is implementing a stormwater retention credit trading program, and Maryland is in the process of establishing a nutrient credit trading program. Both programs incentivize the creation of green infrastructure to protect area waterways and create jobs, among other benefits. Regional stormwater managers are also working together to address contracting challenges by sharing procurement documents and other resources.
At the local level, DC Water is embarking on the final phase of a massive tunnel system bringing relief from combined sewer overflows to the Anacostia River. Alexandria Renew Enterprises (AlexRenew) is being recognized in October by the Water Environment Federation for its State-of-the-Art Nitrogen Upgrade Program, which works to meet strict regulatory requirements while remaining committed to sustainability, innovation, and community engagement.
At the forum, members of the CBPC conveyed their views to EPA and the states regarding several critical decisions that will be made by the Chesapeake Bay Partnership in the coming months.
The CBPC will continue to support Bay restoration efforts, and the need for full, sustained federal funding for the Chesapeake Bay Program and other related federal programs.