Report Finds Coastal Bays Water Quality Degrading

SNOW
HILL – Water quality in the coastal bays is getting worse, not better, reported
Dave Goshorn of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Dave
Blazer of the Maryland Coastal Bays Program (MCBP) to the Worcester County
Commissioners Tuesday.

“We
have a lot of red flags going off,” said Dave Blazer, director of MCBP.

Monthly
water quality monitoring of the Atlantic Coastal Bays has shown a leveling off
of improvement and even a decline in quality in some places, reported Goshorn.

“This
is a lot of relatively new information that’s come forward,” said Blazer. “This
is based on real data. This is on the ground. This is what we’re seeing.”

With
10 years of data, Goshorn said, the southern coastal bays are showing some
problems, and they have the best water quality of all five coastal bays.

“It’s
a little disturbing to see the real good water quality bays show that decline,”
said MCBP Outreach Coordinator Dave Wilson.

Areas
in the middle of Sinepuxent Bay, which has the best water quality, likely due
to its proximity to the Ocean City Inlet, are now showing degradation that no
one can explain.

The
northern coastal bays and tributaries are in worse shape, but Goshorn said he
did not want to speak of trends in those bodies of water with less than 10
years of data, although he did say they do have the most problems.

“That’s
where the pollutants are coming from. There’s greater development pressure in
the northern bays,” he said.

Seagrasses,
an indicator species for the health of the bays, have declined since hitting a
peak in 2001.

“Seagrasses
are critical habitats and they’re nice because they’re very sensitive to water
quality,” Goshorn said.

The
coastal bays face challenges because of their structure as well, Goshorn said,
being poorly flushed with only two, widely separated outlets to the Atlantic
Ocean at Ocean City and Chincoteague. The shallow nature of the bays also
encourages algae.

“The
coastal bays are not simply small versions of the Chesapeake Bay system. They
are unique,” said Goshorn.

Up
until about 2001, coastal bay water quality steadily improved, said Wilson.

“We’re
no longer seeing an improvement. That’s the thing that has us concerned,”
Goshorn said.

Wilson
said it’s a fact the bays are degrading.

“It’s
not a good sign,” said Wilson. “They are indeed unfortunately degrading. The
question is, why?”

There
are several possible culprits, and all are likely involved, he said.

Recent
studies have shown that nutrients in groundwater may not reach the bays for
decades, so that what is now leaching into bay water was actually deposited on
land up to 30 years ago.

Unfiltered
septic tanks and treatment plant sewer discharges also contribute, as do
stormwater run off and atmospheric deposition.

“There’s
no question that burning fossil fuels puts tons and tons and tons of nutrients
into the coastal bays every year,” Wilson said.

County
Commissioner Virgil Shockley, a poultry grower and corn and soybean farmer,
said the agriculture industry has done all it can to do its part.

“The
farmers have done just about as much as they can do at this point,” Shockley
said.

Blazer said he would
convene the coastal bays policy committee, which includes local officials and
state level department heads and cabinet secretaries, in June. MCBP will bring
solutions to the committee, he said, and the committee will decide whether they
are feasible and if there are resources to support those actions. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

HTML tags are not allowed.