Latest indicator better able track local changes in the Bay
As we all know, the waters, habitats, fish and other component parts of the Bay ecosystem are complex and dynamic. And, none of these natural elements that make the ecosystem work pay any respect or adhere to the political boundaries that we have imposed upon them.
So our challenge in protecting, restoring and adapting this intricate system is for all of our scientific expertise and efforts to rise above political delineations. The Chesapeake Bay Program’s water quality experts have taken a critical step in doing just this.
The Bay Program is proud of a new indicator to measure and track the health of the Bay’s tidal waters. Historically, we’ve looked at measures of dissolved oxygen, underwater grasses and algae levels in their own rights, but we have not been able to directly correlate that information with how specific sections of the Bay are doing.
Now, by adapting our analysis, we can watch for signs of improving water quality in more specific regions of the Bay. Not only are we able do it for current conditions, but we can apply the same analysis over time to see how our waters have fared in the past, based on today’s improved scientific understanding.
Scientists and managers divide up the Bay’s tidal waters into 92 segments and, under the new analysis, track what are called “designated uses” within each of them. These uses do not refer to how people use the Bay but to critical habitats and elements that the Bay’s living resources use and need for survival — dissolved oxygen, algae, underwater grass beds and clear waters. Tracking amounts of each of these components by segment will allow our scientists to better monitor the Bay’s water quality at a more local scale.
So why does this matter? Because the ability to look at whether a segment of water in the Bay is meeting water quality standards also means we might be able to find connections between local restoration activities and healthy waters. For example, if a major wastewater treatment plant makes significant technological upgrades, we will soon have the ability to look for specific changes in the segment where the plant’s outfall pipe meets the nearby river. Additionally, if we don’t observe improvements in water quality in response to implementing pollution reduction measures in certain areas, we can investigate why they aren’t occurring and try to correct the situation. In short, we can have a clearer idea of what’s working and what isn’t, as well as insight into the reasons why.
Finally, and back to the issue of crossing political boundaries, the new Bay Program water quality indicator is consistent with reporting offered by the major jurisdictions around the Bay – Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia. Synchronizing this science across the states and DC was a necessity because the resulting indicator will be used to measure progress toward the Chesapeake Bay “pollution diet” goal for our waters, in which 60 percent of segments achieve Bay water quality standards by 2025.
I would hope that all Bay Journal readers know that strengthening our underwater grasses, improving water clarity, balancing algae levels and stabilizing dissolved oxygen concentrations are vital for clean, healthy waters.
To understand how we are doing to protect these uses for living resources, the Bay Program has once again improved our research and analysis to meet the ever-evolving needs of an ever-changing landscape and ecosystem.
Look for the first release of data under this new indicator at www.chesapeakebay.net and in the 2012–13 Bay Barometer, our annual snapshot of health and restoration in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, due out in early December