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Save the bay and the farmers

November 15, 2005

On Monday, the health of the Chesapeake Bay got a report card that most students would not want mom and dad to see - a grade of D and a score of 27.

William C. Baker, president of the Bay Foundation, proposed a variety of solutions. Before they're implemented, however, we would like some assurances that they won't put an unacceptable burden on Western Maryland's farmers.

According to The Associated Press, the foundation's report card considers 13 categories.

Some areas improved, such as the amount of phosphorus and nitrogen flowing into the bay from the Susquehanna River.

But Baker said the bay's "dead zone," where there is not enough oxygen to support aquatic life, has grown larger.

Under the foundation's proposals, farmers, already burdened with writing the reports required by the state's nutrient-management program, would face additional requirements.

Farmers would get additional cash to help plant cover crops and establish wetlands and stream buffers of trees and shrubs such as the ones planted Saturday along Beaver Creek by 120 volunteers.

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We recall how difficult it was to implement nutrient-management plans, with some farmers waiting months for assistance. Any new legislation should ensure that state personnel are available before new requirements take effect.

More important, we believe, is the effort to get Virginia and Pennsylvania to cooperate to a greater degree with the program. According to Baker, Virginia is only now considering the kind of sewer treatment plant upgrades that Maryland enacted two years ago.

Politically, the toughest proposal to enact might be one to preserve more open space. With land prices soaring, farmers who cash out can make more in a year than they could in a decade - and without working 12 or more hours per day.

Preservation makes sense, however, because, among other things, water resources are limited and the bay's watershed can only support so many new residents. The elected official who has to say "no" to new development for the bay's sake will make no friends among those whose plans are rejected.

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