If we don't change our patterns of growth, we will lose as much land to development by the year 2020 as we have in the past 350 years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We pay about $250000 for every new mile of sewer. Directing growth to areas already served by sewers makes good economic sense.

The times, they are a changin'


In these famous lyrics, Bob Dylan was referring to political and social changes of the 1960s. These changes included a growing national awareness of the sources and hazards of pollution that harm such precious bodies of water as the Chesapeake Bay. We asked how our water had become so contaminated and what we could do to make it cleaner. We learned that the degradation had occurred over a long period of time and that fixing the problems would take a long time, too.

Let's see how it happened. Two main themes weave through the history of change in the Bay: the impact of technological advancements on our land and water resources; and the links between population growth and many changes occurring in the watershed.

3000 B.C. -- 1600 A.D.
An estimated 12,000 Native Americans lived in Maryland at the time the English arrived. They hunted rabbits, squirrels, deer and other game, and cleared small areas of land using simple tools to plant corn, squash and beans.

1600 -- 1750
Emulating the Native Americans, the first generations of English colonists established small, scattered settlements and used simple hand tools to catch fish, clear land and grow food. As crops such as tobacco depleted the soil of nutrients, they moved on to farm richer soils.

1750 -- 1870
By 1790, nearly 320,000 people lived in Maryland. New farming tools and techniques, such as use of the plow -- which disturbs the soil to a greater depth -- made the cultivation of large fields easier. The harvesting of streamside (riparian) trees to provide building materials and energy for heating and cooking led to soil erosion and caused many creeks and rivers to fill with sediment, burying some oyster beds, smothering fish eggs and destroying the food supply of bottom-feeding fish.

1870 -- 1940
Innovations in harvesting, production and transportation practices abounded. The oyster dredge made it easier to harvest large numbers of oysters and to remove them from previously inaccessible areas. Tractors facilitated crop production, enabling farmers to cultivate larger fields. Steamships and the railroad carried fish, crabs, oysters and agricultural products to residents of distant cities. As soil erosion into the Bay and its waterways continued, many port towns became silted in and were no longer useful for commerce on water. In 1940, more than 1.8 million people called Maryland home.

Post-1940s
By 1990, Maryland's population had exploded to nearly 4.8 million. As people moved out of the cities and suburbs were born, more and more land was converted from agriculture or cleared for housing developments, shopping malls, schools and roads. Runoff into Maryland's waterways increased, bringing an overload of nitrogen and phosphorus. These nutrients cause algae blooms that rob the water of oxygen and prevent sunlight from reaching underwater plants. Technological changes in the kinds of boats and the type of equipment used for fishing caused the numbers of fish to dwindle. The decline of the Bay and its resources was recognized. In 1983, the first Chesapeake Bay Agreement was signed by Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania, the District of Columbia and the United States Environmental Protection Agency, with the goal of protecting and "bringing back" the Bay to its former health and vigor.

Maryland leaders passed a series of major acts in the 1990s -- the 1992 Economic Growth, Resource Protection and Planning Act and the four 1997 Smart Growth Initiatives -- that address the negative environmental, social and financial effects of sprawl development and recognize the importance of older neighborhoods to the quality of our lives in the future. Smart Growth provides incentives to better locate new growth, protect rural land resources and encourage stewardship of the Bay. Maryland's governor established 10 Tributary Teams to implement pollution prevention measures, advise officials and other decision makers on water quality issues and educate state residents about water quality and nutrient management.

Choices for today… and tomorrow
As residents and stewards of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, Marylanders are taking their responsibility for its protection seriously. Individually and collectively, we are taking action -- choosing environmentally friendly products for our homes and gardens, recycling and reusing whenever possible, disposing of hazardous waste properly and planting trees in our yards and along our streets.

This website is loaded with simple, practical, cost-saving recommendations that can help you, your family, your neighbors and your colleagues show your commitment to protecting Maryland's waterways. Take a look and give them a try! You'll be glad you did!

Quick Facts
Aren't nutrients a good thing?

I'm confused. I thought nutrients were things like vitamins and that they were good for me. Now I'm hearing that nutrients are bad for the environment. What's going on?

Plants, like animals, need nutrients to grow well and remain healthy. The most important of these nutrients are nitrogen and phosphorus. Commercial fertilizers, manure and sludge are all sources of nitrogen and phosphorus. These products can be used to enhance the growth of grass, trees, ornamental plants and agricultural crops -- not a bad thing.

However, a serious problem arises when more nutrients are applied than plants can use. The excess nutrients move through the soil into underground aquifers, contaminating wells and other groundwater supplies. Or they wash across yards, fields, sidewalks and streets into nearby streams, rivers and the Chesapeake Bay. There, they stimulate the growth of excess algae, which blocks sunlight from reaching many beneficial aquatic plants and robs the water of oxygen as it decomposes.

Definitely a bad thing!

The role of research: a legacy of success

The Chesapeake Bay is one of the best-studied coastal systems in the world. Research on this valuable estuary has led to a number of successes: striped bass recovery to unprecedented recreational and commercial fishery levels; recovery of the Bay's magnificent osprey and bald eagle populations, which had been decimated by DDT; and restoration of more than 30 miles of tributary impacted by acid mine drainage on the upper Potomac to a productive fish habitat.

But even as we acknowledge our successes, we are beginning the attack on new problems because re-search is our investment in the future. It is our insurance that tomorrow's policies will be based on broadly accepted knowledge so that the Chesapeake Bay and water resources around the world are protected for future generations.

Animal, vegetable or mineral…

What is algae and why is too much of it a bad thing?

When sediments get washed into our waterways, they often hang in the water for long periods, reducing its clarity. Nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) also get washed into our waterways, resulting in the growth of excess algae -- small plants that float in the water and attach to the leaves of beneficial underwater grasses. Algae can cause the water to become clouded, blocking sunlight from reaching these grasses. When the grasses eventually die, fish and animals that depend on them for food and shelter must go elsewhere. As the algae dies and breaks down, it depletes the oxygen in the water, and only those few species that can tolerate very low oxygen levels remain. Nuisance levels of algae not only plague our waterways but our drinking water reservoirs as well. Water treatment processes to remove algae are complicated and costly, and can result in noxious taste and odors in the finished water. So too much algae is no good.


Fragile: handle with care index | Top of page | ©1999 Maryland Tributary Teams