Where are the Wetlands Going? 

by Summer Walker

The Chesapeake Bay, located in the US Mid-Atlantic region and stretching between six states, is one of the most studied bodies of water on Earth; it is also one of the most polluted. Though these waters are critical to the communities that live in this estuary, they have been labeled as “dirty waters” by the USEPA for decades.[1] One of the major issues that has polluted the waters of the Chesapeake are agricultural runoff, mainly in the forms of nitrogen and phosphorus, which can lead to harmful algal blooms and the death of species. Additionally, the Bay is faced with harm from air pollution and the general effects of climate change such as extreme weather events and sea level rise; with increased rain and storms, the salinity levels of the Bay is changing, which can negatively impact the lives of the species that need the Bay for their habitat.[2] It is of crucial importance to put in regulations to protect these waters due to their importance to all kinds of life that surround them and live within them; the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem is a hub of species diversity, center of the local communities surrounding it, line of protection from severe weather, and critical life source for humans, plants, and other species. Without regulatory action from both State and Federal governments to protect wetlands, ecosystem biodiversity and community life will continue to be negatively harmed. 

 Historically, policy has been put into place to try to combat the degradation that the Bay is facing. After the USEPA created limits for the Total Maximum Daily Load of pollutants that could be released into the water in 2010, the Watershed Implementation Plan was created in the state of Maryland. This plan, also called the Clean Water Blueprint, aims to reach goals of water pollution reduction by 2025. A final version of the plan was released in 2019, stating that by 2025, the amount of nitrogen entering the Bay each year will be reduced by around 30 million pounds per year from levels in 1985, and phosphorus will be reduced by around two million pounds per year. Though the Bay is nowhere near where it needs to be right now, improvements have been seen in things like increased wetland grass diversity, shrinkage of pollutant-caused dead zones, and state-wide initiatives to increase oyster populations.[3]

            Though work is being done to increase the health of the Chesapeake Bay, there is still more that should be done. More state and federal regulations need to be put in place against the development of wetlands into properties, which both releases more pollutants into the water and depletes natural lands; habitat is constantly being destroyed by construction, and this loss of habitat negatively impacts the entire ecosystem. Currently, in Maryland, the Wetlands and Waterways Protection Program requires that property owners obtain permits before building new infrastructure that intrudes on wetlands, like piers or boat slips.[4]  However, despite this program, large development projects are still regularly undertaken in wetland areas that are not interfered with by government regulations. By creating more protected wetland areas, pollution can be better managed and biodiversity can be conserved. Additionally, the EPA and other government organizations need to be more involved in cleaning up the Bay and helping to reduce pollution levels, whether that is through increased funding or other means; without support from these larger, more powerful organizations, it will be more difficult to bring any real, permanent change. If the Bay dies, so will the communities that rely on it; it is imperative that we take care of the environment that has taken care of us. 

[1] The History of Chesapeake Bay Cleanup Efforts. (n.d.). Chesapeake Bay Foundation. Retrieved March 19, 2024, from https://www.cbf.org/how-we-save-the-bay/chesapeake-clean-water-blueprint/the-history-of-bay-cleanup-efforts.htm

[2]Learn the Issues. (n.d.). Chesapeake Bay Program. Retrieved March 19, 2024, from https://www.chesapeakebay.net/issues

[3] Maryland’s Watershed Implementation Plan. (n.d.). Chesapeake Bay Foundation. Retrieved March 19, 2024, from https://www.cbf.org/how-we-save-the-bay/chesapeake-clean-water-blueprint/state-watershed-implementation-plans/maryland/index.html

[4] Maryland’s Watershed Implementation Plan. (n.d.). Chesapeake Bay Foundation. Retrieved March 19, 2024, from https://www.cbf.org/how-we-save-the-bay/chesapeake-clean-water-blueprint/state-watershed-implementation-plans/maryland/index.html

3 thoughts on “Where are the Wetlands Going? 

  1. Hello Summer,
    I appreciated your blog post since it shed light on an issue I was not really aware of. I am not surprised, but still disappointed that wetlands have been negatively affected by the amount of pollution that has been going into them. The policies surrounding the improvement of the wetlands are ones that will overall help the local ecosystem, but I am curious how much public opinion is on these policies. I say this because ever since the last presidency, there has been a growing sentiment to drain swamps and wetlands in order to use the land for human enjoyment. While I do hope that the wetlands will improve in their quality, I am curious to see if the policies will remain intact based on the coming election. Another thing I wanted to note is that I was curious about how long it would take for the wetlands to return to optimal health. For the future of the wetlands, I do hope that these regulations and policies continue to stand in order to help improve the health of the wetlands. I really appreciated your blog, because it showed me that there are environmental policies that truly serve to help the environment and the community that surrounds it.

  2. Hey Summer! I enjoyed reading your article, it was super informative about the swamp that is the DMV. I am from that area and have a different perspective on the issue, maybe because I am not from Maryland and from the other side of the Bay. If I remember correctly, federal policies have always been in place protecting the Chesapeake Bay especially since the Potomac River is a cause of many issues and runs right through D.C. But, because I live near the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers which deposit into the Bay, the issues I hear about are not salination or climate change but the influx of phosphides and nitrites from agricultural settlements further upstream, which discharge insane levels of pesticides and other farming waste into the waters, which is what kills organisms in those rivers and affects the Bay as well; I see you talked about it.
    From my own research, I think that many of the issues started in the 20th century and have gotten exponentially better, the issue is just that the waste discharge was so severe it has effects half a century later. I know that Maryland has recently seen great victories in their policies focusing on improving Bay health, including the passages of the Maryland Forest Conservation Act and Montgomery Forest Conservation Act, both of which target river-side vegetation in order to absorb harmful chemicals and create stability. Overall, I loved reading your blog, it’s always nice to see different perspectives on an issue I grew up with.

  3. Hello Summer,

    I didn’t know how severe these were happening in Chesapeake Bay. Yet, despite these challenges, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. We see communities coming together to fight for change, like in Maryland, where the Watershed Implementation Plan aims to reduce pollution by significant amounts by 2025. It’s empowering to hear about the progress being made, from increased wetland grass diversity to initiatives to boost oyster populations. But there’s still so much more to be done.
    We can’t ignore the fact that wetlands, the most stable part of the bay, are under threat. Despite efforts like Maryland’s Wetlands and Waterways Protection Program, large development projects still affect these habitats. This is a reminder that our regulations aren’t always enough to safeguard the environment. We need stronger protections and more support from government agencies like the EPA to truly make a difference.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.