The Chesapeake continued to languish in about the same overall condition it has been in for years, ranking 27 on a scale of 100, according to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s 2004 State of the Bay report.
That’s the same score the environmental group gave the Bay the previous year, as well as in its first report, issued in 1998. It is a 1-point drop from the 2002 score, when a drought reduced the flow of nutrients into the Bay and sharply improved water quality.
CBF President Will Baker said state and federal agencies were falling behind in their commitments to restore the Bay by 2010, and called on them to find the funding needed to implement cleanup plans. “It is time for the region’s leaders to take action and dedicate the necessary resources to fulfill their commitments,” he said.
To come up with its score, the CBF compares the current status of 13 indicators with what their condition is thought to have been before European settlement. It averages those scores together to come up with the overall index.
While there was movement up or down on various components of the report card, the overall score was the same as last year.
A perfect 100 score would represent a “pristine” Bay, which the CBF says is unattainable. But the foundation does say an eventual score of about 70 is possible.
CBF officials have long acknowledged that some indicators are more subjective— such as the measurement of toxins— than others. Nonetheless, it is generally in line with the prevailing view of scientists that the Bay’s condition bottomed out about two decades ago and has made only a modest improvement since then.
Here are the scores for 2004, and the CBF’s basis for changes from 2003:
Nitrogen: 12, minus 1 from 2003. Phosphorus, 16, up 3. The nitrogen figure reflects an increase in the proportion of river flows into the Bay from the Susquehanna River, which delivers proportionately more nitrogen to the Bay than other rivers. Phosphorus continued to decrease, although the change reflected in part the use of new monitoring methodology.
Dissolved Oxygen: 13, up 1 from 2003. About 35 percent of the water in the mainstem of the Chesapeake lacked enough oxygen to support many forms of aquatic life, although it was still better than 2003.
Water Clarity: 15, up 1. Overall water clarity in the Bay improved over 2003, when extremely heavy amounts of pollution clouded the Chesapeake.
Toxics: 27, minus 1. The drop reflects growing concern about new types of chemicals that may be affecting the Bay’s living resources, such as flame retardants that were recently found in high concentrations in fish from a number of locations.
Riparian Forest Buffers: 55, no change. Private landowner enrollments in the state-federal Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, which pays to plant streamside forest buffers, have declined, while existing buffers have been removed by development.
Wetlands: 42, no change. The group expressed concerns about challenges to wetland laws and regulations at the local, state and federal level, as well as continuing losses to sea level rise and to illegal and unregulated activities.
Underwater Grasses: 18, down 4. The amount of Baywide grass beds declined 30 percent in 2003 (the most recent year for which figures are available).
Resource Lands: 20, no change. There is no indication that development trends have slowed, even as state funding for open space conservation is at its lowest level in years in Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania.
Rockfish: 73, down 2. The drop reflects growing concerns about the health of striped bass in the Bay, the population of which has high rates of disease and may be suffering from a lack of menhaden, an important source of food. Some studies suggest striped bass survival in the Bay is decreasing.
Blue Crabs: 38, no change. The population looks stable, but at a low level.
Oysters: 2, no change. Harvests hit an all-time low, but some restoration efforts are showing signs of success, and some aquaculture projects are showing promise.
Shad: 10, up 1. Stocking programs, fish passage projects including the removal of Embrey Dam on the Rappahannock, and the closure of the ocean shad fishery are all credited with a slow but steady increase in shad abundance.