Hello, my name is Chesapeake Bay, and I have a nutrient problem

Bill Dennison ·
4 March 2010
Applying Science | 

I am a member of Nutrients Anonymous or NA; a fellowship of waterbodies who share their experiences, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others. Nutrients Anonymous is not allied with any denomination, politics, organization or institution. The primary purpose of the Chesapeake Bay chapter of Nutrients Anonymous is to restore Chesapeake Bay.

In Nutrients Anonymous, our motto is "One day at a time", and we ask ourselves, "Are we doing everything that we can do today with current resources to make Chesapeake Bay a better place?"

Conceptual Diagram
Conceptual diagram detailing best management practices around Chesapeake Bay.

The Nutrients Anonymous 12 point plan for dealing with nutrient problems is the following:

Nutrient reductions

1. Plant cover crops. Proven to be the most cost effective agricultural best management practice for removing nitrogen, cover crops prevent nutrients from getting into groundwater. Planting cover crops is currently a voluntary and distributed program. We need to transition the voluntary program into a mandatory program, and provide incentives to early planting to insure maximum benefit.

2. Treat animal manure. Delmarva has 1.1 million people who’s sewage is largely treated, but 110 million chickens at any given time are producing manure with little or no treatment. In addition to solid waste, atmospheric ammonia plumes have been documented. Chicken litter can be a resource (energy, fertilizer), but we need to develop better methods to utilize this resource so that we do not continue to apply chicken manure to soils already saturated with nutrients, particularly phosphorus.

3. Upgrade sewage treatment. We need a watershed-wide standard of Enhanced Nutrient Removal (ENR) for sewage treatment. Sewage/stormwater overflows are part of the problem, so in addition to upgrading the level of sewage treatment, the issue of overflows needs to be addressed by increasing capacity to handle high flows. In order to effectively monitor the sewage nutrients, implement a sewage plume mapping program so that we know how well the ENR program is working.

4. Install denitrifying septic systems. Denitrifying septic systems in critical areas (e.g., Queen Anne’s County) for new construction should be mandatory; expanding to retrofitting existing septic in the future.

Restoration activities

5. Scrub emissions.Targeting selected major smokestack emissions is a cost effective way to reduce N. Driving automobiles less to reduce atmospheric emissions and consequent deposition also reduces greenhouse gases.

6. Landscape backyards. Plant trees, use rain barrels and install rain gardens to intercept stormwater and absorb nutrients, including carbon. A public awareness campaign to encourage water sensitive residential landscaping is needed.

7. Reduce impervious surfaces. Roads and roofs intensify runoff water quality problems and lead to incised streams due to increased runoff energy. These impervious surfaces can be reduced using techniques such as porous pavers and green roofs. Bold legislation requiring no net increase in impervious surfaces is needed.

8. Restore streams. Stream restoration can be accomplished using riparian buffers, daylighting streams that have been buried, and reconnecting streams with floodplain to enhance nutrient removal.

Integrating efforts

9. Communicate widely. We have been preaching to the choir and we need a concerted campaign to reach beyond the small groups of dedicated individuals; we need to interest the uninterested, inform the interested, engage the informed. Timely, information-rich, communication-based materials disseminated widely are needed.

10. Monitor regularly. Monitor the status of the ecosystem (both watershed and bay waters), the stressors (e.g., nutrient inputs) and the implementation of restoration efforts.Timely feedback will provide managers with a measure of effectiveness of various actions so that modifications can be made to improve future implementation approaches.

11. Research key issues. Direct research to answer unresolved issues (e.g., water clarity decline), elucidate new issues, and target restoration activities.

12. Govern using transparency and accountability (e.g., BayStat). Make informed decisions based on best available scientific knowledge. Target resources for maximum impact.

By implementing this 12 point plan, my health and vitality will be restored and this will mean that my family of 17 million people will be able to swim, catch and eat fish and shellfish, and live in a cleaner and healthier world.

About the author

Bill Dennison

Dr. Bill Dennison is a Professor of Marine Science and Vice President for Science Application at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES). Dr. Dennison’s primary mission within UMCES is to coordinate the Integration and Application Network.

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