Bill Portlock/CBF Staff

2020 State of the Bay Report

Overall Score: 32 D+

(-1 from 2018)

Finishing the Job

Experts agree the science-based Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint may be our last chance to save the Bay. It's working. But as this year's State of the Bay shows us, the Bay that 18 million of us call home is still a system dangerously out of balance. The road to restoration is steep, and the clock is ticking.

In 2020, the score declined one point to a 32, largely due to ineffective management of the Bay's striped bass. Of the 13 indicators CBF assesses, four showed declines. Nitrogen and phosphorus scores improved. Long-term data trends show a shrinking dead zone, and large-scale oyster restoration is working.

Still, efforts must drastically accelerate to implement the Blueprint by the 2025 deadline and reach a target score of 40. The Trump administration reversed dozens of clean air and water regulations, and it failed to enforce the Blueprint's terms. Already facing a challenging road to the finish line, these actions put the entire Bay restoration effort further at risk. In September, CBF, our partners, three watershed states, and the District of Columbia sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to do its job. We won’t back down until EPA holds all Bay states accountable for their pollution-reduction commitments.

Saving the Bay can be the world's greatest environmental success story and a model for tackling the existential threat of global climate change. We must demand our elected and appointed leaders follow science, enforce the Blueprint, and invest in finishing the job.

Download the Full Report About the Report Press Release

Pollution

In 2020, we saw clear signs that the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint is working: less nitrogen and phosphorus, a smaller dead zone, and improving water clarity. But favorable weather conditions also played a role, and the Bay's recovery remains fragile.

  • Progress to date has relied heavily on pollution reductions at wastewater treatment plants.
  • Efforts to reduce pollution from agriculture and urban and suburban runoff must accelerate—especially in Pennsylvania, which remains far off track largely due to a lack of resources to help farmers implement conservation practices.
  • The influence of climate change, which scientists expect will intensify storms and wash more pollutants into waterways, must also be addressed.

Habitat

Forests, wetlands, and underwater grasses are critical to the health of the Chesapeake Bay. They provide food and shelter to wildlife, serve as natural filters that reduce pollution flowing into Bay waters, and they help improve the wellbeing of communities by slowing flood waters, producing oxygen, and providing green spaces. While we are seeing small gains, there are troubling setbacks in this important area.

  • Wetlands are under assault from rollbacks of key federal protections, and the federal program that has historically funded the planting of new streamside forest buffers in the Bay region is languishing.
  • Though the total amount of protected lands increased in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia through 2019, development of farmland and forests also continues.
  • Additionally, in another example of how climate change threatens Bay recovery, record-setting rainfall events in both 2018 and 2019 continued to impact the survival of underwater grasses, which have struggled after reaching their largest extent in 40 years in 2018.
  • The Keystone 10 Million Trees Partnership, coordinated by CBF, is committed to planting 10 million trees throughout Pennsylvania by 2025. Since 2018, CBF, the partnership, and others across Pennsylvania have planted roughly 1.92 million trees.

Fisheries

Fish and shellfish support thousands of jobs and generate billions of dollars each year in the Bay watershed. But overfishing, pollution, and habitat loss have reduced the productivity of many of the region's fish and shellfish populations.

  • Large-scale oyster reef restoration in at least 10 targeted tributary rivers in Maryland and Virginia is showing promising results and has paved the way for new investments.
  • The blue crab population remains healthy, though water-quality improvements that reduce dead zones and expand underwater grass habitat are important to help numbers fully rebound.
  • The most recent data on the rockfish (striped bass) population highlight worrisome trends for this iconic Bay species. The fish were well below sustainable levels in 2019, and there has been below-average spawning activity in the Bay over the past two years, highlighting the need for bold management actions to rebuild the population.
  • Science-based management remains critical for restoring oysters and sustaining blue crab populations, as well.
  • A recent estimate of the shad population classified it as "depleted" and labeled the population status in most Chesapeake Bay tributaries as "unknown" or, as in the Potomac River, "unsustainable."

Moving Forward: Follow the Science

The Chesapeake Bay restoration effort is unprecedented in scale and scope. A saved Bay will provide an estimated $130 billion annually in natural resource benefits to the region and model a path for national and global environmental restoration. Indicators of the Bay's health show that substantial challenges remain. Climate change. Regulatory rollbacks. Legacy pollution. Population growth. There is no panacea, but the science remains clear: Collective action is essential.

We launched the Making History Campaign to build partnerships and accelerate efforts to restore two of the Bay's most effective natural filters—trees and oysters—to improve water quality, engage new advocates, and drive economic benefits across the region. The Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint calls for the six Bay states and the District of Columbia to have practices in place by 2025 to meet pollution-reduction targets.

The Bay's resiliency in the face of mounting pressures shows the Blueprint works. But the lack of improvement in the State of the Bay score reaffirms the need to reinvigorate public and political will. We can deliver a clean, vibrant Bay to the next generation, but only if our elected officials follow the science, redouble their clean water commitments, and invest in finishing the job.

Download the Full Report About the Report Press Release

The Bay Needs You

The 2020 State of the Bay Report makes it clear that the Bay needs our support now more than ever. Your donation helps the Chesapeake Bay Foundation maintain our momentum toward a restored Bay, rivers, and streams for today and generations to come.

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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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