The health of the Chesapeake Bay improved two points (six percent) this year to 34, equivalent to a C-, according to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s (CBF) biennial State of the Bay report.
Continued implementation of the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint and below average rainfall resulted in improvements in nitrogen and phosphorus pollution, dissolved oxygen levels, and water clarity.
“As CBF enters its 50th year, we celebrate progress,” said CBF President William C. Baker. “We continue our call for an acceleration of pollution reduction efforts, especially in PA, further protection and restoration of vital natural filters and habitat, and the very best, science-based fisheries management possible. The federal/state Blueprint partnership will achieve a restored Bay in our lifetime.”
Established in 1998, CBF’s State of the Bay Report is a comprehensive measure of the Bay’s health. CBF scientists compile and examine the best available data and information for 13 indicators in three categories: pollution, habitat, and fisheries. CBF scientists assign each indicator an index score from 1-100. Taken together, these indicators offer an overall assessment of Bay health.
“The Bay and its rivers are fundamental to Virginia’s culture and economy, from oyster farms in the Northern Neck to trout streams in the Blue Ridge mountains,” said CBF’s Virginia Executive Director Rebecca LePrell. “The promising improvements outlined in this report show that a fully restored Chesapeake Bay is possible. We’re proud that Virginia is largely on track when it comes to restoring the Bay. But now that we’re starting to see real improvement, it’s even more vital that we maintain this progress.”
Nine of the 13 indicators improved and overall each of the three categories also showed improvement. In the pollution category, toxics comprised the only pollution indicator that did not improve. In the habitat and fisheries categories, underwater grasses, rockfish, blue crabs, oysters, and shad showed improvements this year. Wetlands, and resource lands indicators were unchanged, and the only indicator to decline was forest buffers.
This year’s score is still far short of the goal to reach 40 by 2025 and ultimately a 70, which would represent a saved Bay. The unspoiled Bay ecosystem described by Captain John Smith in the 1600s, with its extensive forests and wetlands, clear water, abundant fish and oysters, and lush growths of submerged vegetation serves as the benchmark, and would rate a 100 on CBF’s scale.
“The improved State of the Bay is welcome news, but there’s a lot left to be done,” said LePrell. “Despite challenges, with problem solving and creativity we can have a fully restored Bay, leading to a better quality of life and livelihood for Virginians.”
The Clean Water Blueprint requires the Bay states to decrease pollution to local creeks, rivers, and the Bay. State and local governments have committed to achieve specific, measurable reductions. The states agreed to have the programs in place by 2025 to restore water quality.
“While that will be a heavy lift, it is imperative for all 18 million of us who live in the Bay watershed to keep the pressure on,” Baker said. “Our elected and appointed leaders need to build on the momentum that has been achieved thus far.”
While Virginia and Maryland are largely on track to achieve their 2017 mid-term goals of 60 percent of practices in place, Pennsylvania is significantly behind, largely due to its failure to meet the goals it set for reducing pollution from agriculture.
For more info on the report, click here.