and the Bay
- Do You Contribute
to the Polluting of the Chesapeake Bay?
No, not I!! Agriculture and industrial runoff are responsible for of
the nitrogen pollution washing into the Bay!! But, not
I simply do not add to the pollution of the Chesapeake Bay.
It is certainly true that excess nutrients, such as nitrogen and
phosphorus, are a major factor in the poor water quality of the
Chesapeake Bay. Sources of this pollution do include sewage and
industrial discharges and farm runoff. However, homeowners also
contribute to the serious problem of nutrient enrichment.
Americans apply millions of tons of fertilizers, which contain nitrogen
and phosphorus to gardens and lawns year each year. When
improperly applied, water runoff from our property carries these
pollutants into storm drains which flow into the Chesapeake Bay.
Join the local Sierra Club as we examine the nutrient problem, consider
what we can do in our own back yards to limit nutrient flow, and
suggest resources that help with future plans to make our actions more
Now is the time to act, for we have a long way to go before we can
remove the Chesapeake Bay from the federal “Dirty Waters
The Problem with Excess Nutrients
It seems strange that nutrients, which are essential to the growth of
all living things, can be the source of “dirty
water.” However when
nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus are washed into the bay in
excessive amounts, they actually degrade the quality of the water and
the life it sustains. These nutrients do enhance growth, the growth of
algae that multiply, or bloom to unbelievable numbers. The algae, in
turn, keep light from filtering through the water to the submerged
aquatic vegetation, which forms habitat and food for bay creatures.
In addition, the decomposition of the algae consumes oxygen so
necessary to aquatic life. These events resulted in the largest
zone” in the history of the bay during the summer of 2003.
the spring rains increased the nutrient flow, which led to severe algae
blooms and the greatest area of water of low-oxygen content that has
been observed in the 20-year history of monitoring water quality. (Bay
Journal, September 2003)
Roughly 300 million pounds of nitrogen, the most serious pollutant,
reaches the Chesapeake Bay each year. State and Federal agencies and
the local Chesapeake Bay Foundation are calling for us to reduce the
nitrogen levels by half, to 150 million pounds, by the year 2010. We
can do our part in realizing this goal.
The problem in our yards.
Most of us live within a short distance of a storm water drain or a
river or tributary, which leads into the bay. There are 64,000 miles of
shoreline along the bay, many of these miles in Anne Arundel County,
and this does not cover the homes located on tributary streams that
flow into the bay. Formerly, the shorelines were forested or covered
with wetlands that helped to filter excess nutrients before they
reached the bay. Now, cities and homes with impervious services
increase storm water flow, a major source of nutrient runoff.
We contribute to the problem by using fertilizers to maintain our lawns
and gardens. Fertilizers contain nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium,
and these flow into the bay as part of the runoff. We can work in our
yards to improve the water quality of the Chesapeake Bay.
What Can You Do Improve Water Quality in Our
Obviously, our most effective strategy in diminishing nutrient
pollution would be to stop using fertilizers and to engage in
“bayscaping” practices, which help to prevent storm
water runoff. There
is a growing attraction to Bay-friendly landscaping in the Chesapeake
Some homeowners have plans to reduce or eliminate lawns, for an
expansive turf requires unusually high amounts of chemicals, precious
water, and continual maintenance. Instead, groundcovers, plants, vines,
shrubs and trees that are native to the area are used because, while
equally beautiful, they generally require less water and chemical
additives, they are hardier, and they increase the habitat for wildlife
such as birds and butterflies indigenous to this area. In this
Bay-friendly design, plants are naturalized in arrangements that help
to control storm runoff, such as rain gardens and buffer zones around
impervious services to conserve water and soak up extra nutrients.
If this is an attractive alternative to you, check the links listed
below, for we are lucky to have some good resources in planning
Use Fertilizers Wisely
However, most of us will probably continue to use fertilizers this
WE CAN USE FERTILIZERS WISELY. A few simple steps will help to improve
the health of the Bay.
1. Create a compost pile. Using compost
the need for fertilizer. Grass clippings, leaves, yard trimmings, and
organic kitchen scraps, vegetable and fruit peelings, egg shells and
tea and coffee grounds can be recycled. Composting improves the
condition of the soil, retains water, and makes a great fertilizer.
www.mde.state.md.us >> composting.
2. Have your soil tested every 3 to 5 years.
applied at the wrong time or over- applied, fertilizers can create salt
problems in the soil, affect winter hardiness, exaggerate pest problems
and make plants grow excessively. Excess nitrogen and phosphorus can
leach out of the soil and pollute ground water or wash off landscapes
to pollute the Bay. www.agnr.umd.edu/SoilTesting
3. Fertilize only when necessary, using the right
of fertilizer. *The University of Maryland recommends using
more than 1 pound of actual Nitrogen per 1,000 square feet of lawn per
application and no more than 2 to 3 applications per year. *The three
numbers on the fertilizer bag, 3-1-1 for example, represent the percent
of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, respectively, in 100 pounds of
the fertilizer. Landscape plants require a different balance of these
nutrients, with lawns usually needing a fertilizer high in nitrogen,
low in phosphorus, and moderate in potassium. Flowering plants need a
higher amount of Phosphorus than Nitrogen and Potassium.
*When fertilizing lawns and trees, look for products that contain water
insoluble nitrogen. This means that nitrogen will release slowly over
time. This is complicated, so look for the following words on the
fertilizer bag: water insoluble nitrogen (WIN), controlled release
nitrogen, sulfur coated urea (SCU), IBDU, ureaformaldehyde (UF), or
resin-coated urea to indicate slow release forms. www.agnr.umd.edu/MCE,
>> Publications, >> Grounds and Garden, and
scroll for FS
702 entitled Lawns and the Chesapeake Bay.
4. Do not apply fertilizers when there is a chance
high winds and heavy precipitation. Fertilizer scattered on
pavement or water-soaked soil is carried by storm runoff to the Bay.
5. Use a “drop” spreader to
apply fertilizer. This
type of spreader, rather than a rotary spreader, enhances the
controlled application of fertilizer, keeping it where you want it, not
broadcasting it wildly.
6. Mow the lawn at the proper height.
Set you lawn
mower to a blade height of 3 inches. At this height, grass will shade
out many weeds and develop healthy roots. Remove no more than 1/3 of
the grass blade when you mow.
7. Use a lawn care service certified by the
Department of Agriculture’s Pesticide Regulation Section,
The Water Quality Improvement Act of 1998 requires commercial
applicators to apply nutrients in accordance with the most recent
Maryland Cooperative Extension recommendation. Ask questions and
request least toxic controls and environmentally friendly lawn care
products. To check you lawn care service, call Maryland Department of
Agriculture’s Nutrient Management Program, 410-841-5959.
Important links to a Healthy Bay.
Bay Bayscapes. Coverage of Bay Issues as well as
Excellent information on
constructing rain barrels and rain/bog gardens.
organization dedicated to saving the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.
Society. Extensive information
on the use and culture of native plants in Maryland.
Home and Garden Center
, Publication, Landscapes that Help the
Chesapeake Bay. Master gardeners help staff this site and will answer
or direct questions to the proper person.
Department of the
composting. Maryland Environmental Issues, including