NPR

Chesapeake Bay Dead Zones Are Fading, But Proposed EPA Cuts Threaten Success

After years of failed attempts at cleaning up the dead zones, the Chesapeake Bay, once a national disgrace, is teeming with wildlife again. But success is fragile, and it might be even more so now.
Billy Crook's commercial crabbing boat, Pilot's Bride. He says it's looking like it's going to be a good year for crabbing on the Chesapeake Bay. Source: Selena Simmons-Duffin

Drive east from Washington and eventually you run smack into the middle of the Chesapeake Bay, the massive estuary that stretches from the mouth of the Susquehanna River at Maryland's northern tip and empties into the Atlantic 200 miles away near Norfolk, Va.

The Chesapeake is home to oysters, clams, and famous Maryland blue crab.

It's the largest estuary in the United States.

And for a long time, it was one of the most polluted.

Decades of runoff from grassy suburban yards and farm fields as far north as New York state, plus sewage and other waste dumped by the hundreds of gallons, made the Chesapeake so dirty that by 1983, the crab population had plummeted to just 2 percent of what Capt. John Smith saw when he explored the bay in the 1600s.

For years, people tried to clean it up. States and the federal government spent millions of dollars. The first effort began in 1983 — officially launched by President Ronald Reagan in his 1984 State of the Union Address.

And each time, the cleanup efforts failed. The bay's health wasn't getting much better.

By 2009, when the Chesapeake Bay Foundation sued the Environmental Protection Agency in an attempt to get the EPA to do more to clean up the bay, the Chesapeake's dead zone was so big it often covered a cubic mile in the summer.

Dead zones form when the water becomes too concentrated with nitrogen and phosphorus

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