Environmental Groups, Clean Chesapeake Coalition Spar Over Poultry House Moratorium

A September 23, 2015, Maryland Reporter article reported that various environmental groups and the Clean Chesapeake Coalition are sparring over a proposed 8-year moratorium on new poultry houses on the Eastern Shore.  The environmental groups maintained the moratorium is necessary to limit phosphorus pollution going into the Chesapeake Bay until the State’s new Phosphorus Management Tool regulations are fully implemented in 2024.  They cite a reduction in the number of water quality monitoring stations along the Chesapeake Bay as a primary reason:

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy, Waterkeepers Chesapeake and the Environmental Integrity Project are among the environmental groups advocating the moratorium on chicken houses to answer cuts to the number of water quality monitoring stations from 16 to 9 in 2013. The state cited EPA budget cuts for reducing monitoring sites.

“Reduced monitoring will make it much harder to determine whether the state’s new efforts to limit runoff pollution with the Phosphorus Management Tool [regulations] are working or need to be strengthened,” said a Sept. 8 report from Environmental Integrity Project called More Phosphorus, Less Monitoring. “Agriculture accounts for 55 percent of the phosphorus pollution that stimulates algal blooms and robs the Bay of the oxygen needed to support aquatic life, and poultry litter accounts for most of the phosphorus runoff on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.”

In response, the Coalition argued that pollution reduction efforts should focus on the Susquehanna River, which sends a more significant amount of phosphorus into the Bay than what is generated by Maryland’s agricultural activities:

Kent County Commissioner Ron Fithian, who chairs the Clean Chesapeake Coalition, fired back at the report, saying phosphorus from Eastern Shore agriculture pales in comparison to what surges through Conowingo Dam annually.

“Maryland’s annual average phosphorus loading to the Bay from agriculture is 985 tons (1,970,000 lbs.). Meanwhile, the average annual phosphorus loading from the Susquehanna River (the largest tributary feeding the Bay) is no less than 3,300 tons (6,600,000 lbs.), not including what is scoured from behind Conowingo Dam and the other reservoirs in the lower Susquehanna River during storm events,” Fithian wrote in a Sept. 18 statement called, More Hysteria, Less Science. “The Susquehanna River dumps nearly 600% more phosphorus each year into the Bay than the phosphorus loading attributed to all Maryland agriculture.” …

“We are wasting time, money and the public’s attention focusing on marginal pollution sources, while common sense and the best science tell us to be looking upstream at the single largest source of concentrated sediments, nutrients and other contaminants threatening the Bay,” he said.

The article also discussed the Bay’s primary water pollution sources and the origin of the Bay Total Maximum Daily Load.