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New Tool for Measuring Chesapeake Bay Cleanup

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

In the three months since assuming the chairmanship of the Chesapeake Executive Council, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson has directed several encouraging new initiatives.

Yesterday (April 28), the EPA released a tool for tracking its new enforcement strategy against polluters in the bay. The web-based mapping tool allows anyone to see just who has been violating anti-pollution regulations and what actions EPA took with the polluters.

Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries are threatened by pollution from a variety of sources and overburdened with nitrogen and phosphorous.  The largest source of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment is agriculture, followed by urban and suburban runoff, wastewater and airborne contaminants.

In a release announcing the new tool, the EPA said:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has launched an online map that shows the locations of federal air and water enforcement actions in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The map is part of EPA’s increased focus on enforcement of federal pollution laws in the Chesapeake Bay region, including a new strategy of targeting geographic areas and pollution sources contributing the greatest amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment to streams, creeks, rivers and the bay. Improving water quality is one of EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson’s top priorities.

“Transparency and accountability are essential to the work we’re doing to clean up the Chesapeake and restore these treasured waters,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “The community now has new tools it needs to see where EPA is taking action to improve water quality and protect the bay.”

A week ago (April 23), the Environmental Working Group's Rebecca Sutton, PhD, submitted a letter to the EPA articulating EWG's support for the proposed pollution controls. Her letter also urged the EPA to step up its efforts to combat one of the biggest threats to the bay -- phosphorous and nitrogen runoff from agriculture -- as it goes forward with regulatory and enforcement strategies.

From Dr. Sutton's letter:

We read with considerable interest the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed guidance for federal land management in the Chesapeake Bay, paying particular attention to the tools and practices suggested for controlling phosphorus pollution. Phosphorus that leaches from or runs off of agricultural fields in the Chesapeake Bay watershed is a major factor causing the failing health of the Bay ecosystem.

We commend the agency for its careful attention to the important role of agriculture in Bay restoration and applaud a number of specific implementation measures outlined. In addition, we ask for clarity regarding manure application on soils for which phosphorus saturation is an inadequate means of assessing the potential for contamination of local waterways. Finally, we challenge the EPA to address the widely acknowledged phosphorus imbalance in the region with specific proposals designed both to equilibrate imports and exports of the nutrient, and to hold poultry integrators responsible for their fair share of the cost of dealing responsibly with the waste created by their chickens. While at present these measures would apply to federal lands only, we think the guidance developed in this document should also help inform policy to address the same issues on private lands throughout the watershed.

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