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Fertilizer, Algae, and the Future of the Bay

By Jalmer Johnson | May 10, 2011 | No Comments

Plant fertilizer does a great job providing extra nutrients to your lawn or garden, but it is also having a disastrous effect on the Chesapeake Bay.

Whenever a big storm rolls through the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, an area that encompasses six states and at 64,000 km2 is about the size of Florida, rainwater runoff carries everything around it into the Bay.  This includes the large amounts of fertilizer used by Virginians on their lawns and gardens.

The major problem with fertilizers leaking into the Bay is the effect it has on algae blooms.  The nitrogen and phosphorous in fertilizer does a great job helping your grass grow, and once it is in the bay it does the same for algae.  After a big storm the influx of nitrogen and phosphorous causes algae levels in the bay to increase nearly 100 times the normal level.

These large blooms of algae wreak havoc on the bay ecosystems by removing vast quantities of oxygen from the water when they die and decompose.  Without oxygen the marine ecosystems that make the Bay special die off.

While bay cleanup efforts and sewage treatment plant have been successful at reducing the amount of many pollutants that enter the Bay ‘stormwater’ runoff from urban, suburban, and rural areas has actually increased. Why is this the case?  Stormwater is allowed to flow freely into the Bay with no treatment.

Some efforts to curb the dangers of stormwater runoff are coming.  The federal government is putting limits on stormwater runoff that begin in 2012.  However, you can play a part in minimizing nitrogen and phosphorous levels in the Bay.  This article in the Virginian Pilot provides a list of ten things that will help protect the Bay, including using native plants in your yard, starting a compost pile, and removing pet feces from your yard.  Hopefully, with our help, the future will be brighter for the Chesapeake Bay.

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