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.