Bay Barometer for 2015-2016 Released by Chesapeake Bay Program on Feb. 1, 2017

This post was written by Eryn Turney, the spring 2017 intern at the Virginia Water Resources Research Center.

On February 1, 2017, the Chesapeake Bay Program released its latest “Bay Barometer,” covering data in 2015-2016.  The report is available online at http://www.chesapeakebay.net/documents/2015-2016_Bay_Barometer.pdf.

The Bay Barometer is an annual assessment of progress toward restoration goals set forth in the 2014 Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement (the 2014 agreement is available line at http://www.chesapeakebay.net/document/ChesapeakeBayWatershedAgreemenetFINAL.pdf).  The report groups measurements into 5 categories: Vital Habitats, Fish and Shellfish, Conserved Lands, Clean Water, and Engaged Communities.

In a forward to the Bay Barometer, the Bay Program’s director, Nick DiPasquale, said “improving” would be the best description of the state of the watershed.  According to the Chesapeake Bay Program’s blog (http://www.chesapeakebay.net/blog), more than half a dozen of the commitments built into the 2014 Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement have reached the halfway mark to success.   For more information on progress towards meeting the Watershed Agreement’s requirements, please visit http://www.chesapeakeprogress.com/.

Following are the highlights of this year’s Bay Barometer, as discussed in the document.

Vital Habitats:

* Underwater grass communities have grown to 92315 acres, passing the 2017 target two years ahead of schedule. The overall goal by 2025 is 185000 acres.

* The Black Duck population increased to 51,332 individuals by 2015. The overall goal by 2025 is to restore, enhance, and preserve enough habitat to support a population of 100,000.

* Wetland habitats have been created/reestablished. 7,623 acres have been established since 2010, providing less than 9% of what’s needed to meet the 83,000-acre goal set for 2025.

* Riparian buffers have been created/reestablished.  64 miles have been established since 2010, providing 7% of what’s needed to meet the goal of 900 miles each year.

Fish and Shellfish:

* The blue crab population in the Bay increased to 194 million between 2015 and 2016, meeting 90% of the 2025 target levels of 215 million.

* Oyster habitat restoration is moving forward, with varied acreage completed, in six tributaries. The overall goal by 2025 is restore habitat to 10 tributaries. These reefs will be monitored on 3 and 6 year intervals to determine if they meet success metrics as compared to the other Barometer parameters which already have established numeric goals.

* 817 miles of stream were opened for fish migration between 2012 and 2015. This marks an achievement of 82% of the overall goal of opening 1000 additional miles (3510 total) to stream migration by 2025.

Conserved Land:

* Approximately 1,004,577 acres of land in the Chesapeake Bay watershed have been permanently protected from development between 2010 and 2015. This marks an achievement of 50 percent of the 2025 land conservation goal (an additional 2 million acres to the existing 7.8 million acres), and brings the total amount of protected land in the watershed to 8.8 million acres.

Clean Water:

* Nitrogen loads decreased 8% between 2009 and 2015, from 257,587,000 pounds/year to 241,498,999 pounds/year. Nitrogen still has (as of 2017) a concentration above the 2017 interim target of 219,537,470 pounds per year. The overall goal is to reach have pollution reducing practices in place to achieve the Bay’s Total Maximum Daily Load standards (TMDLs), which are the maximum amount of pollutants a water body can contain to meet water quality standards. TMDLs were published by the US EPA in 2010. With this, by 2025 the goal is for nitrogen to be reduced to 192,395,790 pounds/year.

* Phosphorus loads decreased 20% between 2009 and 2015, from 19,231,070 pounds/year to 15,357,050 pounds/year. As of 2015, phosphorus concentrations have met the 2017 interim target of 86,306,100 pound/year. The overall goal is to reach 14,456,580 pounds/year by 2025, also in alignment with the Bay’s TMDL standards

* Sediment loads decreased 7% between 2009 and 2015, from 8,675,354,000 pounds/year to 8,035,492,000 pounds/year. Sediment loads as of 2015 were not going to meet the 2017 target of 7,874,417,000 pounds/year, but as of 2017 levels were at 7,50,353,000 pounds/year, which achieves the target. The overall goal is to reach 7,340,531,000 pounds/year by 2025, also in alignment with the Bay’s TMDL standards.

* Between 2013 and 2015, 37% of the Bay and its tributaries met water quality standards following the Bay’s TMDL recommendations, which marks a 10% improvement from the previous assessment. The goal here is to have 100% of Bay waters meet water quality standards.

Engaged Communities:

* 108 public access sites were opened to public from 2010-2015. This marks a 36% achievement of the overall goal of 300 new access sites by 2025.

Data collected and featured in the Bay Barometer reflects the work of many individuals and organizations, including the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) and the University of Maryland’s Center for Environmental Science (UMCES).  Both of these organizations also issue periodic Bay-restoration progress reports.  CBF publishes a biennial State of the Bay report, while UMCES provides the Bay an annual “grade” in its Chesapeake Bay Report Card.  For more information about these assessment systems, please visit the CBF and USCES’s respective websites:
Chesapeake Bay Foundation http://www.cbf.org/;
University of Maryland’s Center for Environmental Science http://www.umces.edu/.

Other Sources about the 2015-2016 Bay Barometer

Bay grass restoration threatened by warming, scientists say, Bay Journal, 2/14/17.

Bay cleanup efforts already feeling the heat from climate changeBay Journal, 2/8/17.

“Bay Barometer” shows Virginia on track to meet 2017 bay cleanup goals, but more work ahead, [Newport News, Va.] Daily Press, 2/2/17.

Bay “Barometer” shows restoration progress, but forest buffers, wetlands lagBay Journal, 2/1/17.

Bay Barometer Notes Measured Progress in Health of Chesapeake Bay, Chesapeake Bay Program News Release, 2/1/17.

For a Water Central News Grouper item on the Bay Barometer for 2013-14, please see this link.

For an audio take on the Bay Barometer, have a listen to Virginia Water Radio Episode 305 (2-29-16).

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