Public needs to carefully weigh long-term impact of ariakensis

The future of the Chesapeake Bay may well hinge on an impending historic decision. Sometime this summer, federal and state officials probably will release a draft environmental impact statement on the proposed introduction of a non-native Asian oyster species, Crassostrea ariakensis, and other oyster management alternatives for the Bay. Anyone who cares about the Bay and its native oysters should follow the EIS process closely and participate in the public comment period.

This environmental impact statement also comes as panels in Virginia and Maryland are considering new information and prospects for native oyster restoration. The rapid growth of successful native oyster aquaculture in both states and the discovery of natural disease tolerance or resistance in the Rappahannock River's large native oysters are just two recent, significant events driving the panels' recommendations for invigorated approaches to native oyster management.

The EIS document will likely be lengthy and complex, and the public should seek clarity from authorities on the potential benefits and risks of the proposals. As citizens evaluate the EIS, they should consider the following. What does the science tell us? Can we meet our economic and ecological needs with minimal or no risk? How will the agencies interpret the available information and make a decision? Who will pay for potential unintended consequences from a non-native species introduction? What are the implications of the proposals beyond the Chesapeake Bay region?

The Nature Conservancy has tracked non-native species gone awry throughout the world. History and a growing body of scientific studies show that the unintended consequences can be ecologically and economically devastating. Federal and state authorities, conservation groups and communities throughout the mid-Atlantic should carefully weigh these potential long-term impacts.

Mark Bryer
Director, Chesapeake Bay Initiative
The Nature Conservancy

Cleanup needs sustainable growth, funding

In December, Bay cleanup leaders acknowledged publicly that they will fall short of their 2010 goal and offered no timetable when nutrient reductions would be achieved.

Nutrient reduction efforts from agriculture have largely not been optimized because of the lack of funding and technical support for farmers. Nutrients from developed land have increased with population, as more subdivisions and shopping centers sprawl across the countryside. And, improvements at wastewater treatment plants lag behind land development as municipal authorities struggle to finance and construct additional needed capacity.

Historically, agriculture has been identified as the largest, single source of nonpoint source pollutants in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. We have known for some time that increased stormwater runoff from development (all kinds) accelerates stream bank and channel erosion-including legacy sediments-contributing significant quantities of sediment and nutrients to our waterways.

We believe the farm portion of the load-reduction pie is exaggerated, at least in the York County, PA, experience, though with our topography, agricultural conservation remains a critical part of the solution.

We have completed studies-Codorus Creek Watershed Assessments (2001, 2002, 2003), Chesapeake Bay Program Trib Strategy (2005, 2006, 2007), Codorus Watershed Conservation Plan (2005), Water Resources Development Act Section 206 Feasibility Study (2007), and 319 Implementation Plan (2007)-of our watersheds and the planning element is now mostly complete.

What we need is dollars to implement these plans. We estimate that it will cost the conservation district $18 million dollars to implement all agricultural conservation plans and an additional $12.28 million to implement non-agricultural watershed restoration and protection best management practices by 2025 before measurable environmental improvements are achieved and sustained.

Additionally, if we do not adequately address long-term growth trends and implement sustainable growth policies, addressing all agricultural-related issues will fall short of meeting the Pennsylvania Chesapeake Bay Tributary Strategy's goals.

Finally, our limitations in meeting resource needs are largely the result of funding mechanisms that require us to be program- and grant-focused (e.g. Chesapeake Bay Program, Environmental Quality Incentives Program and Nutrient Management Act) while competing with too many other interests rather than being resource-focused and locally led.

Among these limitations are the federal "conservation partnership" budget strain and insufficient human resources in the York County Conservation District and Natural Resource Conservation Service, locally.

Cost-effective and efficient locally led conservation starts with the sustainable funding of conservation districts, at local, state and federal levels.

Gary R. Peacock
Watershed Specialist
& Mark Flaharty
Ag Resource Conservationist
York County Conservation District