Drier Weather Will Make For Smaller Dead Zone In The Bay This Summer

BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Dead zones in the bay don’t usually bring good news.

But Alex DeMetrick reports–they do when they’re smaller than normal.

You can cut through the Chesapeake, but you have to cut into it to find dead zones.

“This is getting nasty down here. Oh boy. That’s technically anoxic. There’s no effective oxygen in the water column. This is a dead zone,” said Dr. Bill Dennison during a 2009 interview.

This summer, dead water will be back, except:

“This year, we’re projecting the dead zone will be slightly smaller than average,” said Dr. Donald Boesch, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.

The reason:

“We’ve actually had less rainfall than average in the Susquehanna basin in Pennsylvania this year, so we have less water coming in,” Dr. Boesch said.

And with less water coming through Conowingo Dam, nutrient pollution like nitrogen is lessened. It’s nitrogen that feeds the algae blooms that trigger dead zones in summer.

But a smaller dead zone isn’t just about catching a lucky break with the weather.

Upgrading sewage treatment plans has reduced the nitrogen released from the plant’s outfalls. And improvements at power plants have kept less nitrogen from settling out of the air into water.

“And now we’re turning out attention to the one source that has actually been growing–urban sprawl and development,” said Dr. Boesch.

And the hard surfaces that can’t absorb nitrogen, which washes into the bay.

Dealing with hard surfaces has led to the so-called “Rain Tax” in Maryland. Fees based on property owners’ roofs and driveways will be used to improve storm water infrastructure.

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