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Facing Facts in the Chesapeake Bay

For Immediate Release: 
Tuesday, September 8, 2009

WASHINGTON, September 8 –Despite a quarter of a century of effort by farmers, citizens, environmentalists, and government officials to address pollution in the streams, rivers and waterways of the Chesapeake Bay region, agricultural fertilizers, animal manure and soil erosion remain the watershed’s single largest source of pollution. Without an ambitious effort to fairly but effectively regulate pollution coming from farm fields throughout the watershed, there is simply no chance that the Chesapeake Bay watershed will recover.

An Environmental Working Group (EWG) report released today, Facing Facts in the Chesapeake Bay, details how a frayed regulatory framework and dependence on voluntary action has done little to mitigate the damage from agricultural activities in the six states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Facing Facts is in advance of the Obama administration’s release of Executive Order Reports from seven federal agencies proposing updates to their existing regulatory authorities and to target existing cost-share funds to accelerate restoration of the waterways in the watershed. These reports will identify ways to expand existing federal regulatory authority over agricultural pollution.

EWG examined the reach of existing federal and state regulatory programs aimed at water pollution from agriculture in the Bay States. Taken as a whole, it is a regulatory framework shaped by political expediencies and more notable for its gaps than its coverage.

  • Just one state has regulations addressing soil erosion and sediment pollution on all of the cropland within the state.
  • Just 35 percent of the livestock animals (dairy, beef, swine) in the 5 Bay states with permitting programs are under clean water permits while nearly 80 percent of the poultry animals (broiler meat chickens and egg laying hens) are permitted or about to be permitted. 
  • Just two states have regulations addressing manure application on land by farms generating the manure and by farms using the manure.
  • Just two states have regulations addressing the use of agricultural chemical fertilizers.

"Voluntary programs that pay farmers to implement the minimum conservation practices have only gotten us to the half way point of what is needed to reduce the unintended farm pollution," said Michelle Perez, senior EWG agriculture analyst and the report’s principal author. "EWG has and will continue to work hard to increase funding for voluntary programs and to target those funds more effectively" said Perez, "but it is time to face the fact that voluntary programs alone won’t save the Bay."

Facing Facts reminds us that that as early as 1985 and then again in 1999, the Chesapeake Bay Commission and the EPA, respectively questioned whether a voluntary approach was sufficient to achieving the agricultural practices necessary to improve water quality.
Though Facing Facts shines a bright but sobering light on the inadequacy of the existing voluntary and regulatory approaches to restoring the health of the water in the Chesapeake watershed, there are reasons to be optimistic about the future. The Obama administration’s Executive Order reports should set the stage for an uptick in action and attention to the pollution problem. Additionally, Senator Ben Cardin (D-Maryland) is leading the way to reauthorize the EPA Chesapeake Bay Program in the Clean Water Act to give the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the regulatory power to compel states to submit clean –up plans and punitive powers if states fail to act. 

"The next crucial step after the Obama administration’s report and Senator Cardin’s bill is for the General Assemblies in the six Bay states to craft legislation requiring the agricultural pollution reductions over which the federal government does not have jurisdiction," said Perez.

Go here for the full report:

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EWG is a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, DC that uses the power of information to protect human health and the environment. EWG’s farm subsidy database and related reports and analysis can be found at

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