2014 State of the Bay Report

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation's 2014 State of the Bay report presents a mix of good and bad news. The Bay is improving. Slowly. But it is improving.

The great news: Water quality indicator scores have improved significantly. What we can control—pollution entering our waterways—is moving in the right direction.

The worrisome news: Blue crabs and striped bass are not doing well. These metrics indicate a system still dangerously out of balance.

We continue to have polluted water, risks to human health, and lost jobs—at huge societal costs.

The future is just around the corner; 2017—the year when 60 percent of programs to achieve the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint pollution reduction targets are to be in place—is in our sights.

We must accelerate pollution reduction, particularly from agriculture. Runoff from farm fields remains the largest source of pollution to the Bay and its rivers and streams. Ironically, this pollution is the least expensive to reduce and has the most generous federal and state cost-share funding available.

In some jurisdictions, polluted runoff from urban and suburban areas is the only source of pollution continuing to grow. Investments in reducing this source of pollution must be increased as well.

The Clean Water Blueprint is working so far—improvements in water quality reflect that fact—but there are danger signs ahead. If we want the gains we've made so far to result in a clean Bay and swimmable, fishable rivers, we must accelerate our efforts. States must expedite required implementation of agricultural and urban pollution reduction. If they do not, EPA must impose sanctions. If we want results we must do the work required to get us there.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation's State of the Bay report examines the best available historical and current information for 13 indicators in three categories: pollution, habitat, and fisheries. CBF scientists then assign each indicator an index score between 1 and 100. Taken together, these indicators offer an assessment of the Chesapeake's health.

Progress is compared against the last State of the Bay report, published by CBF in 2012.

The following are excerpts from the 2016 State of the Bay indicator summaries. For the complete report, download the PDF file.


INDICATORS: Nitrogen & Phosphorus, Dissolved Oxygen, Water Clarity, Toxics

Two of the five pollution indicators—dissolved oxygen and water clarity—are improved. Two held steady, and only one—phosphorus—declined. Over all, the water quality indicators improved by about 10 percent over the most recent, 2012, report and there has been continued improvement since 2008.

Nitrogen: 16
(no change from 2012)

Phosphorus: 25
(-2 from 2012)


  • Excess nitrogen and phosphorus, which fuels algal blooms that ultimately cause the Bay's dead zone, is still largely driven by precipitation, which washes contaminants into our waterways. With the watershed's ever-growing population pollution from urban and suburban runoff has become the only major source of nitrogen pollution in the Bay still growing. This reflects the need for increasing runoff management efforts.
  • Phosphorus levels increased in several areas, particularly in the Potomac and James Rivers and on Maryland's Eastern Shore. The drop in the phosphorus score emphasizes the need to see to it that farmers have the tools they need to reduce manure-related phosphorus pollution running off fields and degrading local waterways.
  • Decreases in nitrogen in mostly forested headwater streams has been attributed to the regulatory reduction of air pollution from coal-fired power plants.
  • Upgrades to sewage treatment plants continue to reap benefits, as evidenced by the return of underwater grasses to the Potomac and Patuxent Rivers.
  • Reducing pollution from agriculture remains the region's biggest challenge. Best management practices are the most cost-effective way to achieve reductions in this area.

Dissolved Oxygen: 37
(+12 from 2012)


  • Strong winds from Hurricane Arthur mixed the upper layers of water, which have more oxygen, into the deeper waters, which had suffered from high spring pollution loads, leading to a smaller dead zone.
  • Cooler water holds more oxygen, and below-average July temperatures resulted in the dead zone remaining the smallest it has been in 30 years of sampling.
  • However, as temperatures increased towards summer's end, the dead zone returned to "above average" size.

Water Clarity: 18
(+2 from 2012)


  • Implementation of the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint will reduce the amount of nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment reaching our streams, ultimately leading to better water clarity in the Bay. Practices, such as streamside forest buffers and conservation tillage on farmland, and creating more open spaces in urban areas, are particulary effective at preventing runoff of soil and nutrients.

Toxics: 28
(no change from 2012)


  • After much urging from CBF and other environmental groups, the new Chesapeake Watershed Agreement includes a goal to "Ensure that the Bay and its rivers are free of effects of toxic contaminants on living resources and human health.
  • The Anacostia River Toxics Remediation Act of 2014 established a June 2018 deadline for establishing a clean-up plan for removing toxic chemicals from the Anacostia River, one of the region's toxic hotspots.

The State of the Chesapeake Bay is improving. Slowly, but improving. What we can control—pollution entering our waterways—is getting better. But, the Bay is far from saved. Our 2014 report confirms that the Chesapeake and its rivers and streams remain a system dangerously out of balance, a system in crisis. If we don't keep making progress—even accelerate progress—we will continue to have polluted water, human health risks, and declining economic benefits—at huge societal costs.

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INDICATORS: Forested Buffers, Wetlands, Underwater Grasses, Resource Lands

Forested Buffers: 58
(-5 from 2012)


  • Forested buffers remain one of the best measures we can take for the environment but implementation continues to decline. Accelerating implementation is a key component of the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint and the federal Chesapeake Executive Order Strategy (EO13508).
  • In recent years, the average acres of forest buffers planted was roughly 4,000 acres per year. To achieve Blueprint commitments watershed-wide, an average of 14,000 acres per year is needed between now and 2025.
  • In June 2014, the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay convened a "Forest Buffer Summit." One outcome was the establishment of state task forces, led by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), to develop recommendations for how to overcome current obstacles to greater implementation.

Wetlands: 42
(no change from 2012)


  • In 2014, the new Chesapeake Watershed Agreement set a goal of restoring 85,000 acres of wetlands by 2025. For context, between 2010 and 2013, some 6,000 acres of wetlands were restored on farmland—about seven percent of this new goal.
  • Also in 2014, the Environmental Protection Agency released a draft regulation that attempts to clarify what types of water bodies are protected under the Clean Water Act. The rule responded to two Supreme Court decisions that had caused great confusion among regulators, the regulated community, and other stakeholders. This rule, clarifying wetland definitions and boundaries, will ensure vital wetland habitat remains protected.

Underwater Grasses: 22
(+2 from 2012)


  • From 2012 to 2013, underwater grasses increased roughly 24 percent, a strong recovery from the previous years of decline. This recovery appears to have continued into 2014. In addition, many of the observed beds are dense and healthy, also a positive sign for Bay recovery. The huge, dense grass bed on the Susquehanna Flats, which was able to survive Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee in 2011, increased in acreage in 2013 and remained robust in 2014.
  • Improvement in underwater grasses is good news because grasses provide critical habitat, hold sediment, and slow erosion. Continued recovery of underwater grass beds is a good indicator that progress is being made, but improvements to forested buffers, wetlands, and resource lands—along with improvements in the five pollution reduction indicators—are necessary for this trend to continue.

Resource Lands: 32
(no change from 2012)


  • Forestland increased statewide in Pennsylvania and Virginia over the past five years, yet there is still a net loss of a half million acres over the last 15 years in the three major Bay states.
  • At the same time, land development has increased. Failure to effectively plan, account for, and offset growth, and manage runoff from new development with strong state stormwater programs could endanger water quality improvements.

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INDICATORS: Rockfish, Blue Crabs, Oysters, Shad

Rockfish: 64
(-5 from 2012)


  • A new scientific assessment documents a ten-year decline in the rockfish (striped bass) population since 2003, to the level that triggers conservation action. Catches coastwide will be cut back beginning in 2015 in an effort to bring numbers up.
  • The current population level is still fully capable of reproducing. Spawning in 2014 was about average, and the 2011 hatch was very good and will help bring adult numbers up in the next few years.
  • Scientists have found that rockfish are dying at higher rates in recent years, probably because of Mycobacteriosis, a disease triggered by stress from low oxygen levels and poor nutrition from lack of preferred forage species like menhaden. Improvements in oxygen levels and forage species will help the 2011 year class survive in numbers that will bolster future rockfish populations.

Blue Crabs: 45
(-10 from 2012)


  • The Bay's blue crab population dropped dramatically to less than half its 2012 level. Most noteworthy, the number of adult female crabs (the spawning stock) dropped below the level considered depleted, forcing the states to cut back on catches to improve the chances of good reproduction. Crabbers suffered poor catches in both 2013 and 2014.
  • The science-based management approach put in place in 2008 provides important guidelines for the fishery, but has not been able to stabilize the fishery at sustainable levels. Consideration should be given to a quota-based system for managing total catch as a way to improve the quality of the fishery.
  • Factors other than harvest are evidently also limiting the crab population. The large numbers of juvenile crabs produced in 2011 did not mature into large numbers of adults as expected. Continued low levels of underwater grass habitat probably exposed small crabs to high predation by striped bass and other predatory fish. Clearly the management of the crab catch needs to be supplemented by further efforts to reduce nitrogen and phosphorous pollution and restore crab habitat.

Oysters: 8
(+2 from 2012)


  • Surveys show oysters are surviving better than they have in decades. Roughly a billion oysters are now planted annually in the Bay and its tributaries. Over 90 percent have survived in Maryland waters in each of the last three years, indicating reduced losses from disease. In addition, a good spat set (the number of baby oysters attaching to hard surfaces) in recent years is boosting restoration efforts and watermen's catches.
  • The total Baywide catch nearly hit one million bushels in the 2013-14 season, the first time that benchmark has been approached since 1987. Most importantly, a thriving aquaculture industry has taken root, producing five times what it did just five years ago.
  • Collaboration between state and federal agencies has never been better. A new approach that targets individual river systems with a goal of restoring ten tributaries by 2025 is showing great promise.
  • Still, there are major challenges. The increased catches are improving the availability of shell, the preferred material for restoring reefs, but quantities are still well below what is needed. Alternative materials are being tried successfully and will be essential for rebuilding the once-common, three-dimensional reefs. Most importantly, continued dedicated funding will be essential to maintain momentum and recover the essential role that oysters play in the Bay ecosystem.

Shad: 9
(no change from 2012)


  • The spring 2014 shad run was relatively good in Virginia rivers, and the Potomac River remains a bright spot. But the Susquehanna River, the site of enormous historical shad runs, had its lowest number of returns since the Conowingo Dam fish lift began operations in 1997. The dam is currently undergoing relicensing. Improving upstream and downstream fish passage is a critical element in the relicensing.
  • State and federal efforts to re-stock shad juveniles have met their targets in recent years.
  • Once the most valuable fishery in the Chesapeake, shad are now in danger of being the forgotten fishery and will only recover with a formula that includes restocking of juveniles, protecting adult fish in the ocean and the Bay, and restoring access to historic spawning grounds.

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The good news is that we are on the right path. The State of the Chesapeake Bay is improving. Slowly, but improving. The Clean Water Blueprint for the Chesapeake and its rivers and streams is working. What we can control—pollution entering our waterways—is getting better.

But, the Bay is far from saved. Our 2014 report confirms that the Chesapeake and its rivers and streams remain a system dangerously out of balance, a system in crisis. If we don't keep making progress—even accelerate progress—we will continue to have polluted water, human health risks, and declining economic benefits—at huge societal costs.

All of us, including our elected officials, need to stay focused on the Blueprint, push harder, and keep moving forward. Our environment, our economy, and our health depend on it. Saving the Bay and restoring local water quality will not just benefit us; clean water will benefit our children and all future generations.


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Founded in 1967, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) is the largest independent conservation organization dedicated solely to saving the Bay.

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