Local Commentary

A Penny for Your Thoughts: The News of Greater Falls Church

On most report cards, a grade of C- would raise a lot of questions when you tried to explain it to Mom and Dad. They probably would demand a lot of improvement in the next grading period. Improvement is exactly what’s needed for the Chesapeake Bay.

At a news conference last Thursday on the shore of the Severn River overlooking the United States Naval Academy grounds, the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science issued a Chesapeake Bay Report Card for 2007 in a familiar (to some) little brown envelope. The overall grade was a C-, up slightly from the 2006 grade of D+. Scores are based on the Bay Health Index, which measures three water quality indicators (chlorophyll, water clarity, dissolved oxygen) and three biotic indicators (clams and worms at the bottom, phytoplankton in the middle, and aquatic grasses at the top, of the water column) toward scientifically derived ecological goals.

Bay health remained in poor condition in most regions, although the Upper Bay fared better than the middle and lower sections. The most improved regions were the Upper Western Shore and Choptank River in Maryland. The summer drought, while difficult for many homeowners, actually led to fewer nutrients and sediment flowing into the Bay, which is a good thing. But water clarity continued to be poor, and numerous harmful algal blooms and fish kills were recorded around the Bay tributaries, including the Potomac River. There was a slight improvement in aquatic grasses, according to the report card.

When I was in school, our report cards included a rating called “deportment,” and a grade of C- most certainly would have gotten written comments from the teacher about expected improvement. Deportment is all about conduct and behavior, and it is our behavior that must change to restore the Chesapeake Bay to a healthy condition. Upgrades at many municipal wastewater treatment plants have reduced nitrogen and phosphorus pollutants flowing into the Bay, but atmospheric nitrogen depositions, such as from automobile emissions, are harder to calculate and control. Homeowner behavior change can be as simple as curbing the use of household fertilizers on lawns. Rain gardens direct water from impervious surfaces like roofs and driveways into vegetated areas which slow the speed of the runoff and filter pollutants. Riparian buffers, a fancy name for planting trees and shrubs along streams and creeks, have positive effects on water quality, and are not very hard to do. Log on to www.fairfaxreleaf.org for more information about planting events in our area.

Another Bay report card will be issued next year. Together, all residents of the 64,000 square mile Chesapeake Bay watershed will be graded on improvement (log on to www.eco-check.org to learn more about what you can do). We must do better than a C-.

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