Chesapeake Bay Report Card from University of Maryland for 2015 Shows One of Three Highest Scores Since 1986

In mid-May 2016, the University of Maryland’s Center for Environmental Science released its annual “Chesapeake Bay Report Card” on the status of biology and water quality in the Chesapeake Bay, showing that conditions in 2015 were better than they had been in most years since 1986.  This year’s report, for conditions in 2015, had an overall “grade” of 53%, rated a C (“moderately healthy”), compared to 50% in 2014 and 45% in 2013.  The report card is available online at

The Center analyzes data on five chemical or physical indicators and five biological indicators and assesses how close (on a percentage basis) the indicators are to reaching a set of established goals, in response to pollution-reducing and habitat-improving actions.  The indicators are as follows: dissolved oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorus, chlorophyll, water clarity, aquatic “grasses” (submerged aquatic plants), benthic (bottom-dwelling) community, Blue Crabs, Bay anchovy, and Striped Bass.  From 2014 to 2015, scores improved or remained steady for all but one of the indicators, phosphorus.

According to the Center’s news release on the report, the 2015 value was one of the three highest since 1986, exceeded only by the scores in two drought years, 1992 and 2002.  In drought years, lower stream flows typically carry lower levels of pollutants in stormwater from the landscape to Bay waters, and that imply more improvements than have actually occurred.  But the Center’s 2015 report noted that stream flows in 2015, while below normal, were not nearly as low as in 1992 and 2002, indicating actual progress in the health indicators.

Grades in 2015 among the 15 Bay regions (from highest to lowest grades) were as follows: James River and Choptank River: C+; Upper Bay, Upper Eastern Shore, Upper Western Shore, Lower Eastern Shore (Tangier), Mid-Bay, and Rappahannock River: all = C; Potomac River: C-; Elizabeth River and York River: D+; Lower Western Shore (Md.) and Patuxent River: D; and Patapsco and Back Rivers (including the Baltimore Harbor): D- (but still an improvement over 2014).

Other sources:
“Chesapeake Bay health improves in 2015,” University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science news release, online at, accessed 5/18/16.

Scientists give Chesapeake Bay its highest environmental grade since 1992, Baltimore Sun, 5/17/16.

Other news accounts about the report:
New study shows Chesapeake Bay health really is improving, [Newport News, Va.] Daily Press, 5/19/16.
Report card: Chesapeake Bay ‘C’ grade is one of the highest since 1986, [Annapolis, Md.] Capital Gazette, 5/17/16.
Report: Chesapeake Bay Health Improved Last Year, WJZ TV-Baltimore, 5/17/16.

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