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Local Riverkeeper Hesitant to Celebrate Governor's Bay 'Milestones'

Following Governor Martin O'Malley declaration that the Chesapeake Bay is on the right track, a local expert explains why she's slower to declare "victory."

While Gov. Martin O'Malley that Maryland had met milestone goals to protect and restore the Chesapeake Bay, a local riverkeeper says she would like to see more evidence.

By gauging nitrogen and phosphorous poundage and reviewing "cover crops," the governor declared that the bay is on its way to prominence thanks to recent legislative efforts.

However, following O'Malley's announcement, local chemist and water expert Diana Muller said the governor's assessment needs to be backed up with statistical evidence before riverkeepers like herself celebrate any real success. 

O'Malley's announcement stated that progress was achieved by planting 429,818 acres of cover crops, preventing about 2.58 million pounds of nitrogen and 86,000 pounds of phosphorous from impacting the bay. But Muller was more than hesitant to accept the statement.

"As a riverkeeper, I'm excited that the state of Maryland is on the right track ... but as a chemist, I also sit on larger bay committees and there has been zero measurable anything," Muller said. "We haven't had enough time to measure nutrients to know if they're decreasing pounds."

Cover crops are a traditional way to keep harmful nutrients from entering the Bay during rainy seasons. They are used to cover primary crops and prevent raw dirt from running off into the bay—but it doesn't automatically equate to a healthier Chesapeake Bay, Muller said.

"[Instantly crediting cover crops], it's actually kind of grey washing. It's saying, because we have cover crops, therefore we should be decreasing this amount," Muller said. "It's all speculative. Just because we have more cover crops doesn't actually mean the bay is in better shape."

The state, according to O'Malley's statement, also planted 895 acres of forest buffers to help naturally remove nutrients, meeting 166 percent of its goals in the process.

Improvements to state and local wastewater treatment plants led to the prevention of more than 1.5 million pounds of nitrogen from reaching the Bay—meeting 165 percent of the state's wastewater nitrogen reduction goals, the statement said.

"Thanks to the leadership of Governor O’Malley and the Maryland General Assembly, legislation passed this year will help us to protect, restore and support healthy waterways and drinking water while preserving farm and forest land, all of which will benefit Maryland families with clean water for years to come," Maryland Department of the Environment Secretary Robert M. Summers said in a statement. "Clean water is the foundation of public health, economic health and Marylander’s quality of life for the future."

Through her work with the as the , Muller was pleased by the state's push, but admits that one state is not enough to "fix" the bay.

"We're dealing with a multi-state body of water. The bay, the water, it's continuous, so for somebody to say we're reducing nutrients, for me, I've got to see the numbers," Muller said. "Show it to me and let's track it, because we're not 'there' yet. There's not enough data to prove it." 

See Maryland's 2012-2013 goals via BayStat.

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Matt Minahan July 12, 2012 at 03:12 AM
While I'm glad that the state is doing some things to address the Bay pollution, I applaud Diana's demand to"Show me the data!

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