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Chesapeake Bay health not improved from 2012, according to CBF

Improvements in pollution reduction and water clarity offset by declines in fisheries

  • By Leslie Middleton on January 05, 2015
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The Chesapeake Bay Foundation rated the Bay's overall health last year, based on an assessment of pollution, habitat and fisheries, as a D+ — a score unchanged from its 2012 condition. The organization's annual State of the Bay report, released Monday, showed some improvements in pollution reduction, but these were offset by declines in fisheries.

CBF President William C. Baker said that the Bay watershed is still “a system dangerously out of balance” and called for the agriculture sector specifically to “do more” to help clean up the Chesapeake. “Agriculture is the largest sector of pollution coming into the Bay, but it is the least expensive to control,” Baker said.

The foundation, which has been pushing EPA and the Bay watershed states to implement strategies to reduce nitrogen, phosphorous, and sediment pollution from multiple sources, uses the annual report card to track 13 metrics  — from water clarity to forest buffers — which it ranks on a scale of zero to 100.

A score of 100 represents an unspoiled ecosystem at the time of Captain John Smith’s exploration of the Bay in the early 1600s. The 2014 D+ represents a total score of 32.

CBF gave a 12-point boost last year for dissolved oxygen, which is necessary to sustain fish, crabs, and other species, and lesser improvements in water clarity, oyster populations, and underwater grasses. However, these gains were offset by declines in the population of rockfish and blue crabs as well as inadequate reductions in phosphorous.

Metrics related to nitrogen, forested buffers, and shad populations remained even with 2012 scores, as did those for toxic pollution reduction, wetlands restoration, and protection of farmlands, forests, and other vital habitats.

Baker said his organization is hoping for a score of 50 (or C+) by 2025, which would indicate a “stable” Chesapeake Bay, given the lag time it will take time before regulations and practices put in place now to show a positive trend.

But Baker warned that 2017, the mid-point milestone under the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load, was fast approaching without the Bay states collectively being on track to meet their goals under that agreement.

In a press release accompanying the report, CBF called for specific actions for Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia to take. Baker said that Pennsylvania, in addition to reducing agricultural runoff and planting more streamside trees, should address the smallmouth bass population declines in the lower Susquehanna River. Designating that section an “impaired waterway” under the Clean Water Act could provide more resources to understand and remedy the problem.

CBF wants to see Maryland plant more trees and implement phosphorous reduction measures under the phosphorous management tool enacted in the last days of outgoing Gov. Martin O’Malley’s term. He encouraged governor-elect Lawrence J. “Larry” Hogan to seek pollution reduction measures using “every element of his administration that he can muster.”

In Virginia, CBF urged acceleration of pollution reduction from both urban/suburban sources as well as agriculture, and strengthen its oyster fisheries through more supportive regulations.

In spite of the score not improving, Baker and the foundation expressed confidence that the process underway now is working.

A link to the CBF report is HERE.


About Leslie Middleton

Leslie Middleton writes about water quality, public access, and the special places of the Chesapeake Bay region from her home in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Read more articles by Leslie Middleton


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