John Tolley, September 9, 2019
One of the most productive and important estuarine ecosystems in the world, the Chesapeake Bay is constantly moving, churning together fresh and saltwater, mingling inland animals with their seaborne cousins. It is a vital economic engine, a transportation hub, a center for recreation and a source of food for the surrounding region.
The Chesapeake also holds the dubious distinction of being one of the most threatened environmental areas in the nation. Years of industrial pollution and agricultural runoff left the tidal waters, ironically, both poisoned and eutrophic. Wildlife, especially the iconic blue crabs and oysters, has dwindled while blooms of life-choking algae have led to large "dead zones."
Fortuitously, the bay neighbors our nation's capital and a bevy of institutions well-equipped to aid in reversing the decades of damage. At the University of Maryland College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (AGNR), a strategic initiative entitle Ensure a Clean and Healthy Chesapeake Bay is taking top priority. Specialists from across the college are joining forces on a multi-pronged effort to help clean and maintain the bay for generations to come.
One of the main approaches to restoring the Chesapeake is the proper management of rain water as it flows from towns and cities, across lawns and fields, and through the earth. In the recent issue of AGNR's Momentum magazine, professor Adel Shirmohammadi outlines how improperly implemented systems can wreak havoc on the balanced ecosystem.
"When water washes away pesticides, fertilizers, chemicals, and trash, it goes into our groundwater and runs off into the Bay. Stormwater, if not managed properly, moves trash into storm drains that become clogged, so mosquitoes breed, and biosolids end up as contaminants. When we build without proper stormwater management design, we get massive flooding that damages property and leads to more runoff. This runoff increases turbidity in the Bay, and it blocks the sunlight, depletes oxygen, and kills aquatic life, hurting our natural resources, and disrupting the role that aquatic creatures play in purifying the water column."
The Ensure initiative, he further explains, is analyzing issues, such as stormwater systems and nutrient management, down to the molecular level. Teams are investigating ways to divert both pollution and excess nutrients from the bay through the growth of cover crops, waste reuse and targeted irrigation.
AGNR researchers are also working with agencies across the state to promote sustainable water stewardship. Through the formation of the Maryland Interagency Water Consortium, they are spreading the word that careful consideration of personal and industrial water use is needed to effect real change in the Chesapeake Bay.
For more information on the University of Maryland College of Agriculture and Natural Resources commitment to positive change in the Chesapeake, check out the latest issue of Momentum here.