December 28, 2010
Bay Health Improves
Report Card Shows 3-Point Increase, but System Still in Critical Condition
(ANNAPOLIS, MD)—The Chesapeake Bay is showing encouraging signs of rebounding but is still in critical condition as a result of pollution, according to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s (CBF) 2010 State of the Bay Report. The report comes as the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is preparing to release its pollution budget designed to reduce pollution and dramatically improve water quality.
"That the Bay is getting better is a huge development, but sadly not the whole story," said CBF President William C. Baker. "Dead zones, fish kills, and water contact advisories are constant reminders of how far we still must go."
The numeric index of the Bay’s health jumped three points from 2008 to 2010, with eight of 13 indicators rising. The indicator for the health of the blue crab population spiked 15 points, as the Bay’s population increased significantly last year. Also, underwater grasses showed steady progress over the past four years.
But the overall health index of the Bay is 31 out of 100, which means it is still a system dangerously out of balance.
The report is a comprehensive measure of the Bay's health, evaluating 13 indicators: oysters, shad, crabs, striped bass (rockfish), underwater grasses, wetlands, forested buffers, resource lands, toxics, water clarity, dissolved oxygen, and phosphorus and nitrogen pollution. CBF scientists compile and examine the best available historical and up-to-date information for each indicator and assign it an index score and letter grade. Taken together, these indicators offer an assessment of Bay health.
The unspoiled Bay ecosystem described by Captain John Smith in the 1600s, with its extensive forests and wetlands, clear water, abundant fish and oysters, and lush growths of submerged vegetation serves as the benchmark, and would rate a 100 on CBF's scale.
"We are at a tipping point," Baker said. "If EPA stands firm, and the states deliver on their commitments, the Bay will become resilient and bountiful. At the same time, reducing pollution will create jobs and improve local economies."
By the end of December, EPA must issue a pollution diet for the Bay watershed called a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL). (Note: The EPA released the TMDL the day after this press release was published.) The TMDL is required under the federal Clean Water Act and court rulings.
This diet will require Maryland and other Bay states, and ultimately each local jurisdiction, to ratchet down pollution to local creeks, rivers, and the Bay from all sources, including farms, sewage treatment plants, urban and suburban streets, parking lots and lawns. State and local governments will be held responsible for those reductions or potentially lose federal funding and be denied federal permits.
The Bay states and the District of Columbia were required to submit a Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP) to EPA specifying how it planned to meet the new pollution diet. The preliminary version of the each jurisdiction’s plan was deficient in specific details, the agency concluded. CBF has urged the EPA to stand firm in its expectations and to impose consequences on jurisdictions that fail to establish and fully implement plans that meet pollution reduction goals on schedule.
"We applaud Maryland for creating a substantial and high quality WIP, and for the work put into producing the document. This high level of dedication will be needed from all leaders over the next 10 years if we hope to see a restored Bay," said CBF Maryland Executive Director Kim Coble. "Maryland will need to aggressively pursue a number of commitments in its Bay clean-up plan. For example, to get pollution reductions from agriculture the state must continue funding cover crops, but also must target that funding to fields where manure is applied and corn is grown. We look forward to working with the state to ensure the WIP produces real results."