When Too Much Of A Good Thing Is Bad!

Excessive algae growing in waterways, due to nitrogen and phosphorus enrichment kills fish and other plants by depriving them of oxygen. Forests and wetlands once absorbed most of these pollutants and reduced their impact on the Chesapeake Bay, but they have been replaced by farms, cities, and suburbs, increasing the amount of pollution entering the bay.

The Chesapeake Bay is the country’s largest estuary and the world’s third largest. An estuary is an area of water where saltwater from the ocean and freshwater from rivers and streams mix. The bay’s watershed encompasses D.C., and parts of Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Stormwater from this watershed flows into local streams that eventually enter the Chesapeake Bay. This means that activities in all of these locations, especially pollution, impact the bay and its water quality. 

Nitrogen and phosphorus are common pollutants from human activities that find their way into estuaries like the bay and cause poor water quality. These nutrients enter the Chesapeake Bay in many ways, including through sewage-treatment plants, industrial facilities, agricultural fields, and lawn fertilizers. Forests and wetlands that once absorbed most of these pollutants and reduced their impact on the Chesapeake Bay have been replaced by farms, cities, and suburbs, increasing the amount of pollution entering the bay.

Nitrogen and phosphorous are particularly harmful, because they create a process called eutrophication, when too many nutrients enter a water system, the excess nutrients causes too much algae to grow on the surface. 

While some algae is good for the ecosystem, too much algae causes extensive harm in two ways. First, the algae consume all the oxygen dissolved in the water preventing other organisms, such as fish, from getting the oxygen they need. This leads to dead fish washing onto shores and suffering fishing industries because of reduced fish populations. Second, the algae blocks sunlight from penetrating the lower levels of the water, killing any aquatic plants that need sunlight to grow. 

Eutrophication can devastate an aquatic ecosystem and can sometimes affect human health, by causing red tides. 

The only way to prevent eutrophication is to reduce the amount nutrients polluting stormwater, which drains to local streams and here, eventually ends up in the Chesapeake Bay. 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has issued a Total Maximum Daily Load for the bay, which establish pollution limits a body of water can receive and still meet state water quality standards. 

Fort Belvoir is committed to doing its part to preserve the Chesapeake Bay. 

Nutrient Management Plans have been developed which limit the amount of nutrients used on the installation for landscape maintenance. Additionally, monthly street sweeping removes pollutants from the streets so they don’t get washed down the drains when it rains. Fort Belvoir also works to reforest lands whenever possible. 

If everyone does their part to reduce nutrient pollutants, we can help protect the Chesapeake Bay. 

Here’s what you can do: 

1. Pick up your pet’s waste, which is nitrogen-rich and pollutes stormwater when it rains. 

2. Reduce the amount of fertilizers you use, or use non-phosphorous fertilizer and check the weather before you apply it. Do not apply fertilizers right before it rains. This contaminates stormwater and doesn’t help the plants. Also, make sure you follow the application instructions on the fertilizer container to ensure it’s not being overused. 

3. Pick up leaves and yard clippings, which wash into storm drains, decompose and contribute to nutrient pollution, causing eutrophication.

For more information, check out the Chesapeake Bay Foundation website at: https://www.cbf.org/join-us/more-things-you-can-do/in-your-yard/.