The Top Polluter Of The Chesapeake Bay Environmental Sciences Essay

Published: 2021-07-06 07:10:05
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Category: Environmental Sciences

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The Chesapeake Bay is one of our nation’s largest and most important bays providing us with food, water and an area for recreational sports. Agricultural runoff from farming is the greatest pollutant harming the Chesapeake Bay, destroying the ecosystem and devastating our recreational fishing.
The primary causes for this runoff are irrigation, fertilizer and poor animal waste management. While fertilizers, pesticides, manure and tilled soil are beneficial to crops, they become pollutants when water from irrigation and precipitation washes them into local waterways, severely impacting the environment for recreational fishing. This form of pollution accounts for about one-half of the nutrients that are harming the Chesapeake Bay. Both animal waste and fertilizers put tons of nutrients into the soil. When there is an excess of these nutrients and it rains, this runoff flows into the small streams and rivers. From there these nutrients flow into the small tributaries which in greater concentrations become poison to the Chesapeake Bay.
Farm run-off is a form of pollution in which certain chemicals in the soil, like nitrogen and phosphorous, are washed into streams and rivers that feed into the Chesapeake Bay. Although farmers claim that there are bigger contributors to Chesapeake Bay pollution and damage, there is much evidence that farm run-off is the leading cause to the damage done to our Chesapeake Bay. According to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation Agricultural run-off is responsible for over 40 % of the damage (Chesapeake Bay Foundation). This runoff contains the remains of chemical fertilizers and pesticides that were used during the planting and growing season and when uncontrolled cause serious water pollution.
Just 13 years ago crabs and fish could be caught off the docks in ocean city all day long, but now fishing regulations are strictly enforced. There are limits put on the amount of fish that can be caught due to declining populations and some species in the Chesapeake Bay are becoming extinct. According to analysis performed by Washington & Lee University and sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency’s Chesapeake Bay Program, an overabundance of the nutrients nitrogen and phosphorous is polluting the Chesapeake Bay habitat and affecting the numbers of fish and wildlife (Gratten, McCraw, and Tokarczyk). These nutrients, when uncontrolled, cause thick algae that blocks sunlight from underwater vegetation. The algae uses up all of the oxygen in the water killing the fish, stressing the ecosystem and create conditions for deadly parasites. The University’s findings showed that 42% of the nitrogen and 49% of the phosphorous came from agricultural runoff (Gratten, McCraw, and Tokarczyk). Nitrogen and phosphorous are essential nutrients for all living organisms. The nitrogen helps a plant’s circulatory system and the phosphorous aids in root growth. The USGS recently released a report showing that nitrogen and phosphorous concentrations improved at a majority of the sites in the Bay watershed since 1985. However, there has been less significant improvement over the last 10 years. Since 1985, nitrogen concentrations have decreased at about two thirds of the monitoring sites. But over the last 10 years, improvements occurred at less than half of the sites with the majority of the sites having no significant change. In general, sediment concentrations have shown less improvement overall than nutrients. Sediment samples have been taken and both long term and short term data shows that they have worsened at about a quarter of the sites (Capelli, Noserale, and Phillips). What this means is that although nutrients are being controlled better, the soil itself is eroding more and carrying the chemicals with it as it washes into the Chesapeake Bay tributaries after rain or irrigation.
Evidence shows that these nutrients flow into the bay from a variety of sources including agricultural runoff, sewage plants, storm water runoff and home fertilizers spread throughout the watershed. A significant finding according to the U.S. Department of the Interior and U.S. Geological Survey is that about 90 percent of the sediment came from the Susquehanna, the Potomac, and the James Rivers (Langland and Cronin 51). These are not only the three largest tributaries of the Chesapeake; they support over 90% of the agricultural farmland. This sediment comes from cultivation, fertilization of farm lands, and erosion that occurs as a result of loose soil coupled with storms and watering. Like the algae blooms, the sediment clouds the waters and disturbs the underwater plants that provide the oxygen for aquatic life.
Overall the Chesapeake Bay’s health is not flourishing like it once did. Agricultural runoff is affecting the Chesapeake Bay by damaging the habitat. Grass beds are diminishing and fish and wildlife are dying. Maryland Blue crabs and Striped bass are dying out.
Farming is an obvious necessity to support our race and to do this we need an enormous supply of food (plants and animals). According to the EPA, The United States has more than 330 million acres of agricultural land that produces food and contributes to the production of other things like fuel and energy (U.S.EPA). An abundance of food is a good thing, but people don’t take into consideration that there are side effects of growing crops and raising animals. In his Washington Post article, Peter Goodman writes, "Perdue, the country's second-largest chicken producer, trucks millions of gallons of waste a year from its Delaware slaughterhouses into Maryland, where the loads are injected into fields. Delaware limits such dumping, but Maryland does not" (Goodman A1).
This type of pollution affects the Chesapeake Bay as agricultural farm run-off. If this pollution is not stopped the ecosystem will be destroyed and many fish like the very popular striped bass will become extinct. We thrive from these aquatic species and look forward to eating them in the summer. These fish are a huge part of our food source, and action needs to be taken to prevent this farm run-off pollution from damaging our cherished jewel, the Chesapeake Bay. Commercial farmers are oblivious to that fact that runoff from their farms is the greatest pollutant contaminating and destroying the Bay. Their counter claim is that the greatest source of pollution is sewage treatment plants and storm water runoff from automobile and suburban lawns. Maryland Baystat clearly shows that agricultural runoff is the single greatest source of nitrogen pollution with 37%, 49% of the phosphorus pollution and 51% of the sediment pollution. No other single category comes close ("Causes of the Problems").
One of the most important fish species is the Atlantic Menhaden because of its link to many levels of the Chesapeake Bay food web. While environmental studies show Menhaden populations along the Atlantic coast appear to be sufficient there’s still concern because the numbers are getting smaller and the frequency of fish kills due to lack of oxygen are growing ("Atlantic Menhaden").
Fewer Menhaden reduce the food supply for the striped bass, bluefish, weakfish and other recreational species. Recent studies suggest that the Bay's striped bass are suffering from poor nutrition, causing them to die off and increasing their susceptibility to various diseases.
In a specific case involving Perdue, a poultry industry giant, and the Hudson Farm on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, a spokeswoman from The Maryland Department of the Environment stated that, "The Agency has found high bacteria levels in ditches draining from the property…these eventually drain into the Pocomoke River, a Chesapeake tributary" (Fahrenthold). A Perdue spokesman claims that the families who raise chicken for Perdue are independent farmers and what they do is not their responsibility. These farmers say that the powerful food companies are controlling them. Neither one of them is accepting responsibility in polluting the Chesapeake Bay.
Everyone agrees that the highest priority is to restore the Bay's resources and that one way to do this is to improve water quality by reducing nutrients. The farm lobby maintains that responsibility goes to the primary offenders of Bay pollution - the wastewater treatment plants, the municipalities that own the roads and storm drains and the growing number of shopping center developments.
Farmers contend that the major factor in pollution comes from non-point sources. Nonpoint sources are defined in specific legal terms as those sources that cannot be traced back to a single and specific origin such as industrial plants or sewage treatment plants. There is no legal basis to definitively identify which piece of manure or which drop of fertilizer actually caused the pollution because the pollution is spread in small quantities over great areas and there are no permanent boundaries that prevent it from seeping underground or washing over it. Agricultural runoff is legally defined as a non-point source and yet it’s the largest single sources of nutrients contribute about 60 percent of the nitrogen that reaches the Bay ("The Great Waters Program"). What the farming industry fails to do is to reduce and control their contributions to non-point source pollution. In particular, the excess nitrogen from farms comes from chemical fertilizers, livestock manure, and sewage sludge on fields as well as from animal wastes that run off pastures and feedlots. Whereas there are other sources of nitrogen pollution and the diagram below is evidence that agricultural runoff from farming and farm related activities is the largest producer of pollution to the Bay (Chesapeake Bay Foundation).
The numbers don’t lie. The agricultural crop production and concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) are devastating the Chesapeake Bay and recreational fishing by adding pollution to the Bay. With 22 percent of the watershed in agricultural production, agriculture is again the single largest source of pollution (J.C. Winnie). Areas in the Chesapeake watershed rank in the upper 10 percent nationally in the use of nitrogen fertilizer. There are simple ways to decrease the impact of runoff on the Chesapeake Bay but small farmers claim that it is too expensive for their tiny operations and the larger operators claim that it’s the responsibility of the small farms. While farmers near the Chesapeake Bay are under increased pressure and are incentivized to produce greater crop volumes for use as fuel according to the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, the increased corn production will result in an additional 8 to 16 million pounds of nitrogen pollution and 0.8 to 1.5 million pounds of phosphorus pollution into the Bay annually (Harris 8). At CAFOs located along Maryland’s eastern shoreline, poultry manure is also produced in large volumes. Large chicken farms in the area now number more than 800, house approximately 570 million chickens, and produce 650 million pounds of manure each year (Harris 8). Just 15 years ago, a bloom of the harmful algae Pfiesteria caused nutrient enrichment from manure spilled into the Bay. This bloom killed various species of fish and wildlife and was linked to human neurological problems in people exposed to the Pfiesteria toxins in the water.
The Chesapeake Bay landscape is changing rapidly. The evidence presented supports the argument that the greatest pollutants harming the Chesapeake Bay comes from agricultural runoff. More than 60% of the historic wetlands of Chesapeake Bay no longer exist due to changes in water flow and runoff pollution. The ecosystem is being damaged and is devastating our recreational fishing ("Wetlands"). More than 60% of the historic wetlands of Chesapeake Bay no longer exist due to changes in water flow and rThe water used to be so clear that people could see several feet below the surface where today it’s hard to see your toes in ankle deep water ("Chesapeake Bay Frequently Asked"). Pollution runoff remains the leading cause.
On April 13, 2013, the Baltimore Sun reported that scientists discovered a 44% drop in Chesapeake Bay and river grasses to its lowest level in 36 years as a result of runoff pollution (Wheeler). Scientific analyses and environmental studies prove that there is too much nitrogen and phosphorous washing into water. Nitrogen and phosphorous are two nutrients that make algae grow out of control. When algae grow out of control, the underwater grasses die and without oxygen from the underwater grasses, the fish and wildlife die. The government made it illegal for people or companies to dump harmful things into the Chesapeake Bay but farmers say it’s there’s no specific proof to prove that any particular farming operation is the main culprit of pollution.
There are several alternatives to stop the damage produced by agricultural runoff. New environmentally safe methods, resource management plans, and greater enforcement, will help to fix the problems. Several new innovative ideas worth exploration use wood fibers and compost in filtration. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is pursuing a unique idea using algae itself as a recyclable cleaner. The USDA used algae to make cleaners by putting it in netting placed around farm land and barns (Hill). The algae grew on the manure and fertilizers in the runoff water, cleaning it of excess nitrogen and phosphorous while cleaner water passed through. The USDA researchers also demonstrated that the algae cleaners could be dried and reused as an organic fertilizer.
States including Maryland and Virginia are helping farmers develop agricultural runoff protection plans using certified planners. The planners will assist farmers in the creation of plans that are customized for each individual farm. Plans would include fertilizer and land management, planting grass and trees along stream banks, using environmentally friendly techniques for cultivation, planting cover crops to absorb excess nutrients and reduce erosion, and building fences to keep farm animals and their waste products away from water sources (Epes).
Any plan is only as good as its execution. The State and Federal Governments must clearly define the standards, ensure that they are being met and enforce any violations by handing out significant penalties. As Ann Jennings, an Executive director for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation said, "Ultimately, it will be the agriculture community that determines if this program is successful. Widespread acceptance and adoption by farmers is the only means by which this new non-regulatory approach to improving water quality will work" (Epes).
This research paper exposes the facts and provides a compelling argument that agricultural runoff is the top producer of pollution in the Bay. With alternatives like this, farmers must step up and do their part to clean up the Chesapeake Bay and save recreational fishing.

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