Climate change in the Bay, Washington, DC

In our last issue, I reported about how climate change might make achieving nutrient and water quality goals for the Bay a bit more difficult. This month, we have a couple of articles about how climate change will also make it tougher for a couple of Bay species.

A new scientific paper projects severe losses in eelgrass, probably the Bay’s most important underwater grass, as temperatures warm.

Underwater plants already have a tough existence: They need energy from sunlight to pump oxygen through their roots to fend off toxic soil conditions; otherwise, they die. Murky water makes it hard for all underwater grasses to get enough sunlight. But because eelgrass doesn’t function well in warm temperatures, it is especially vulnerable. Climate change is tipping it over the edge, threatening the Bay’s restoration goal for underwater grasses.

Meanwhile, rising sea levels are blamed for the near elimination of black rails from Bay marshes. Numbers of the small, secretive bird have fallen 90 percent in recent decades as rising water levels flood their nesting sites. Only a handful remain around the Chesapeake — once a global hot spot for birders to find the elusive bird. It’s in trouble everywhere, and under review for possible protection through the federal Endangered Species Act.

Of course, the political climate is also changing in the nation’s capital, as climate policies, the Endangered Species Act and other environmental programs face a major overhaul or outright elimination. As the Bay Journal was going to press, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency — the lead federal agency for the Bay cleanup — was reportedly facing a 24 percent budget cut. A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers called on the Trump administration to fully fund the agency’s Bay work — which new EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has called a national model.

We’ll be tracking all of these issues in coming months, and reporting potential impacts on Chesapeake restoration efforts.

Changes in the Bay Journal, too

As you can see, we’ve redesigned pages 2 and 3 of our print edition to make them more user-friendly. The Bay Journal has grown so much over the last few years that it was becoming harder to find stories, so we’ve added a table of contents to give readers a quick overview of what’s inside and where to find it.

It’s the first of many improvements we hope to phase in during the coming year. I hope you like the changes. As always, I’m interested in your feedback.