UM expert panel examines progress of restoration measures to help Bay
COLLEGE PARK, Md. — What will a restored Chesapeake Bay look like?
The question was posed to an expert panel as part of a discussion capping off the University of Maryland College of Agriculture and Natural Resources’ second annual Cornerstone Event.
The all-day event on Oct. 29 focused on one of the college’s five strategic initiatives: Ensure a clean and healthy Chesapeake Bay.
As states in the Bay’s watershed enter the third and final phase of the federally mandated Total Maximum Daily Load pollution reduction plan, the question stirred discussion about the restoration goals set by government and organizations and if it will actually achieve restoration.
Alison Prost, Maryland executive director for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, led the panelists’ responses and said having a self-sustaining bay that is always fishable and swimmable again is one mark of a restored Bay.
John Torres, executive director of Maryland Farm Bureau, said he agreed with the concept of self sustaining, while balancing the ecological needs of the region with the needs of its citizens.
Suzanne Dorsey, Maryland Department of Environment assistant secretary, said protecting water quality is a job never done but transitioning from a restoration focus to conserving the gains made with effective management of nutrients and toxins will be a key shift in the grain’s approach.
“Once we enter that phase, once we are clear on what that means, then I think we will have restored the Chesapeake,” Dorsey said.
David Goshorn, senior Bay restoration coordinator for Maryland Department of Natural Resources, said the bay’s resiliency will be a key factor in determining it restored but how resilience is defined will continue to evolve as science and practices improve.
Ann Swanson, executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, said the federal TMDL plan has helped quantify best management practices into pounds of nutrients and sediment reduced and achieving the TMDL’s 2025 reduction goal will be another way to determine the bay’s restoration.
Swanson added that in the bay region, about 22 percent of land is permanently conserved and reaching 30 percent would be another mark of ensuring bay restoration. Increased stream buffers and wildlife habitat were other signals she cited.
Swanson said the region has made great strides already. Since 1983, population in the region has increased from 12 million to 18 million and states have cut pollution in half.
“We’re at the 50 percent mark but we need to be much higher,” she said.
Panelists shared thoughts on what the region will need to reach the restoration goal.
Hans Schmidt, Maryland Department of Agriculture assistant secretary of resource conservation, said Maryland leads the nation in cover crop planting and nutrient management planning but more technology and technical assistance needs to available and affordable for farmers to enhance soil health and water quality.
Speaking at a state university, Swanson suggested the creation of certificate program to channel agriculture students into technical assistance positions.
“That skill set will deeply matter,” Swanson said. “We don’t have enough technical service providers.”
Torres echoed the continued use of cover crops by farmers as important as well as improve foreign trade to better stabilize farmer’s viability.
Prost called for expanded tree planting throughout the watershed.
“It’s cost effective,” she said. “We’re losing them faster than we put them back into the ground.”
All panelists agreed collaboration between states, stakeholder groups and industries are crucial in achieving a restored bay.
“We do ourselves no favors to throw stones in glass houses,” Torres said.