On February 3, 2015, the Chesapeake Bay Program released its annual “Bay Barometer,” an assessment of progress toward restoration goals for the Bay. The most recent report assessed data available in 2013-14 on five Bay “health” indicators: water quality, underwater grasses (submerged vegetation), Blue Crabs, American Shad, and juvenile Striped Bass; and six areas of restoration and protection actions: wetlands, forest buffers, fish passage, protected lands, public access, and reduction of pollutants (nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment).
The Bay Program’ 2/3/15 news release on the report states, “While communities across the watershed have continued to take important steps to reduce the nutrient and sediment pollution that has long plagued the Chesapeake, the Bay remains impaired. Scientists have long understood that our actions on the land will not show immediate improvements in water quality, so a lack of significant change in water quality monitoring data over the past decade is not a surprise. Nevertheless, some living resources are showing signs of resilience.” (The news release is available online at http://www.chesapeakebay.net/presscenter/release/experts_consider_chesapeake_bay_an_ecosystem_in_recovery.)
Following are the highlights of this year’s assessment, from the Bay Program’s news release. Hyperlinked terms are linked to more information at the Bay Program’s Web site, http://www.chesapeakebay.net.
Signs of Resilience
*Between 2012 and 2013, the abundance of underwater grasses in the Bay rose 24 percent. Scientists observed 59,927 acres of underwater grasses in the Bay and attribute the increase to an expansion in widgeon grass and a modest recovery of eelgrass.
*In 2013, the abundance of American shad in the watershed increased to 41 percent of the goal. The Bay-wide trend was driven by rising shad abundance in the Potomac and York rivers.
*Between 2013 and 2014, the relative abundance of juvenile striped bass in the Bay increased. Index values in Maryland and Virginia are about equal to historic values for each state, and are a significant increase from the low numbers seen in the region in 2012.
Signs of Impairment
*Between 2011 and 2013, 29 percent of the water quality standards for dissolved oxygen, water clarity or underwater grasses and chlorophyll a for the Bay and its tidal tributaries were attained. These results are not significantly different from those of the previous three-year assessment period.
*Between 2013 and 2014, the abundance of spawning-age female blue crabs in the Bay fell 53 percent, from 147 million to 68.5 million. This number is below the 215 million target and the 70 million threshold, which means adult female crabs are in a depleted state.
*Between 2009 and 2013, modeling estimates show that our partners have reduced 20.28 million pounds of nitrogen, 2.04 million pounds of phosphorous and 497 million pounds of sediment. This means that nitrogen loads to the Bay fell 7 percent, phosphorous loads fell 11 percent and sediment loads fell 6 percent.
Restoring the Watershed
*Since 1989, 2,576 miles of fish passage have been restored to rivers and streams.
*Since 1996, 7,994 miles of trees and shrubs have been planted along rivers and streams.
*Between 2010 and 2013, 6,098 acres of wetlands were established, rehabilitated or reestablished on agricultural lands.
*8,371,682 acres of land have been permanently protected from development.
*1,208 public access sites have been established across the watershed.
The Bay Barometer 2013-14 is available online at http://www.chesapeakebay.net/publications/title/bay_barometer_health_and_restoration_in_the_chesapeake_bay_watershed_2013_2.
Following are some news media accounts about this year’s report.
Annual Bay Barometer shows the Chesapeake Bay is in recovery in most areas, Daily Press, 2/4/15.
Chesapeake an ecosystem in recovery, (Annapolis, Md.) Capital Gazette, 2/4/15.
Full Chesapeake Bay cleanup could take decades, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 2/3/15.
Chesapeake Bay recovering but still under stress, report finds, Reuters 2/3/15.