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Volume 2, Number 2
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A Blueprint for the
Bay's Future?
As population growth, poorly planned development and stubbornly persistent nutrient problems continue to plague the Chesapeake Bay, concerns have heightened about the future of the nation's largest and historically most productive estuary. Precisely what does the future hold for the Chesapeake?

In order to answer that question, a group of scientists launched a multi-year project to provide their best estimates of what the Bay will look like in the year 2030, depending on what courses of action we pursue now.

Entitled Chesapeake Futures: Choices for the 21st Century, the study was undertaken by the Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee (STAC), an independent group of scientists, engineers and other technical experts appointed to advise the multi-state/Federal partnership known as the Chesapeake Bay Program. The committee chose three different scenarios for their projections: Recent Trends (maintaining the status quo), Current Objectives (largely fulfilling current Bay agreements), and Feasible Alternatives (putting in place a range of progressive technologies and programs).

The outcomes for the three scenarios varied dramatically. For example, under Recent Trends, if the same land use patterns witnessed during the past several decades were to continue, by 2030 an additional two million acres of farm and forest land would fall to development, and water quality would worsen. In fact, with population approaching some 19 million people in the watershed by 2030, Chesapeake Futures predicts that without new efforts total loadings of nitrogen would grow by about 30 million pounds by then - about 10 percent over current levels - representing the loss of more than half the hard-won load reductions achieved between 1985 and 2000.

Beyond this, the scientists remind us that nature remains highly variable, and that our best models and projections must take into account the uncertainties of sea level rise, climate change and other environmental unknowns. They point out, for example, that wide fluctuations in runoff - from one year's drought to the next year's deluge - can drive changes in flow to the Bay's tributaries that actually overwhelm nutrient reduction efforts for any single year. At the same time, they say, long-term trends will continue to reflect overarching patterns in the watershed, such as land use decisions now being made in local jurisdictions throughout the region.

A 160-page report summarizing the study's results, edited by Donald F. Boesch and Jack Greer, is available on the website of the Chesapeake Research Consortium at www.chesapeake.org/stac. To request a paper copy of the report, write CRC, 645 Contees Wharf Road, Edgewater, Maryland 21037.

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