In April 2012, the University of Maryland’s Center for Environmental Science released its annual “report card” on the status of biology and water quality in the Chesapeake Bay. The Center analyzes state and federal agency data to see how close three water-quality indicators and three biological indicators are to established thresholds or goals, in response to pollution-reducing and habitat-improving actions and to annual precipitation variation. This year’s report, for conditions in 2011, had an overall “grade” of 38%, rated a D+ or “poor ecosystem health”), compared to 42% (C- or “moderately poor ecosystem health) in 2010, and 46% (C or “moderate ecosystem health”) in 2009. From 2010 to 2011, scores decreased for five of the six indicators—dissolved oxygen, chlorophyll a, water clarity, submerged aquatic vegetation (or “aquatic grasses”), and the benthic (bottom-dwelling) community—while the score increased for the phytoplankton community (floating, mostly microscopic plants).
According to the Center’s news release on the report, scientists attribute poorer Bay conditions in 2011 to heavy spring rains that carried high amounts of algae-stimulating nutrients, a hot and dry summer that was conducive to algal growth and resulting oxygen depletion from algal decomposition, and heavy fall rains from tropical storms in August and September that resulted in heavy surface runoff of sediment to the Bay.
Grades among 15 Bay regions (from highest to lowest grades) were as follows:
Upper Bay, Lower Bay, and Upper Western Shore, all = C;
Lower Eastern Shore (Tangier), James River, and Rappahannock River, all = D+;
Upper Eastern Shore, Mid-Bay, York River, Lower Eastern Shore (Md.), Potomac River, and Choptank River, all = D;
Patapsco/Back Rivers = D-; and
Patuxent River and Elizabeth Rivers, both = F.
The report is available online at http://ian.umces.edu/ecocheck/report-cards/chesapeake-bay/2011/. The remarks made at the University’s release of this year’s report are available at http://ian.umces.edu/blog/2012/04/18/chesapeake-bay-2011-report-card-release-at-baltimore-harbor/ (as of 4/18/12).
Source: Chesapeake Bay health drops to a D+ in 2011 University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science Web site, 4/18/12.
Following is a sample of April 17 and April 18 news accounts about the report: Chesapeake Bay gets D+ in new report card, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 4/18/12; Chesapeake Bay gets D+ in new report card, Newport News Daily Press, 4/17/12; Report card gives Chesapeake Bay a D+, Annapolis (Md.) Capital, 4/18/12; Chesapeake Bay Health Gets D+ For 2011, WAMU (D.C.) Radio, 4/18/12