U.S. Delays Slow Chesapeake Bay Cleanup, Audit Says (Update 3)

November 27, 2006 18:47 EST, Bloomberg News Service


By Neil Roland

Nov. 27 (Bloomberg) — The Bush administration’s lack of commitment, coordination and funding contributed to delays in cleaning up Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries in the District of Columbia and six eastern U.S. states, a U.S. audit found.

The federal and state cleanup, originally to be completed in 2010, won’t be finished for decades, the joint audit by the inspectors general of the Agriculture Department and Environmental Protection Agency said.

The Nov. 20 report said the Agriculture Department, led by secretary Mike Johanns, and the EPA, headed by administrator Stephen Johnson, hadn’t done enough to get farmers to reduce nutrient and sediment run-off into the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.

“EPA needs to be more aggressive in engaging the highest level of USDA management to identify new policies and practices,” the inspectors general said in the 62-page report. “Continuing business as usual will not result in the substantial reductions required to restore the Bay.”

The Chesapeake Bay Watershed covers 64,000 square miles (165,800 square kilometers). The bay, its tributaries and surrounding land extend into the District of Columbia, Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia.

The watershed, which has helped sustain the region’s economy, is on the EPA’s impaired waters list. Shad, oyster and blue crab populations are at low levels, and underwater grass beds that provide habitat for fish have been dying, the non- profit Chesapeake Bay Foundation said in a Nov. 13 report.

`Clear Direction’

An Agriculture Department spokesman rejected auditors’ criticism of priorities in handling Chesapeake Bay.

“In terms of leadership from the Secretary on down, there’s clear direction for us to work together and find ways to improve the condition of the bay,” Arlen Lancaster, chief of the agency’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, said in an interview today. “We know our efforts are making a difference.”

The auditors’ report said that, at the current rate of cleanup, it could take 38 years for governments to largely rid the bay of nitrogen, which comes from cropland and lawn fertilizer. Nitrogen can fuel algae that blocks sunlight and depletes oxygen in the water.

The EPA acknowledged some failings. It plans to work with the Department of Agriculture to draw up a list of common goals, priorities and strategies for cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, spokeswoman Terri White said.

“We do agree with the IGs’ recommendation that we can do a better job coordinating with the USDA and the agriculture community,” White said in an interview.

To contact the reporter on this story: Neil Roland in Washington at nroland@bloomberg.net .

Last Updated: November 27, 2006 18:47 EST