(ANNAPOLIS, MD)—The health of the Chesapeake Bay improved two points (six percent) this year to 34, equivalent to a C-, according to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's (CBF) biennial State of the Bay report. Continued implementation of the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint and below average rainfall resulted in improvements in nitrogen and phosphorus pollution, dissolved oxygen levels, and water clarity.
"As CBF enters its 50th year, we celebrate progress. We continue our call for an acceleration of pollution reduction efforts, especially in PA, further protection and restoration of vital natural filters and habitat, and the very best, science-based fisheries management possible," said CBF President William C. Baker. "The federal/state Blueprint partnership will achieve a restored Bay in our lifetime."
Established in 1998, CBF's State of the Bay Report is a comprehensive measure of the Bay's health. CBF scientists compile and examine the best available data and information for 13 indicators in three categories: pollution, habitat, and fisheries. CBF scientists assign each indicator an index score from 1-100. Taken together, these indicators offer an overall assessment of Bay health.
Nine of the 13 indicators improved and overall each of the three categories also showed improvement. In the pollution category, toxics comprised the only pollution indicator that did not improve. In the habitat and fisheries categories, underwater grasses, rockfish, blue crabs, oysters, and shad showed improvements this year. Wetlands, and resource lands indicators were unchanged, and the only indicator to decline was forest buffers.
This year's score is still far short of the goal to reach 40 by 2025 and ultimately a 70, which would represent a saved Bay. 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.
The Clean Water Blueprint requires the Bay states to decrease pollution to local creeks, rivers, and the Bay. State and local governments have committed to achieve specific, measurable reductions. The states agreed to have the programs in place by 2025 to restore water quality.
"While that will be a heavy lift, it is imperative for all 18 million of us who live in the Bay watershed to keep the pressure on," Baker said. "Our elected and appointed leaders need to build on the momentum that has been achieved thus far."
While Virginia and Maryland are largely on track to achieve their 2017 mid-term goals of 60 percent of practices in place, Pennsylvania is significantly behind, largely due to its failure to meet the goals it set for reducing pollution from agriculture.
CBF's Pennsylvania Executive Director Harry Campbell said:
"Keeping nitrogen and phosphorus on the land where they are helpful, instead of in the water where they're harmful, is the core of Pennsylvania's Clean Water Blueprint. But implementation of practices to do so are dependent upon adequate investments in pollution reduction and enforcement.
"It is important that comprehensive and sustainable investments toward cleaning up Pennsylvania's 19,000 miles of impaired streams focus efforts in the right places, with the right practices, and engages the right people and communities."
CBF's Maryland Executive Director Alison Prost said:
"Maryland has much to gain from a cleaner Chesapeake Bay. This State of the Bay report shows signs of hope that our work to date is paying off. Maryland residents, businesses, farmers, and political leaders should be proud of their investments, and efforts toward a clean Bay.
"However, there are worrisome signs that Maryland is falling back. The state is not keeping pace with its commitments to reduce polluted runoff from our towns, to protect and replant trees, and to ensure the oyster population recovers. If we are to have a healthy and restored Bay, rivers, and streams, we must persist. We definitely cannot backtrack on our commitments."
CBF's Virginia Executive Director Rebecca LePrell said:
"The Bay and its rivers are fundamental to Virginia's culture and economy, from oyster farms in the Northern Neck to trout streams in the Blue Ridge mountains. The promising improvements outlined in this report show that a fully restored Chesapeake Bay is possible.
"We're proud that Virginia is largely on track when it comes to restoring the Bay. But now that we're starting to see real improvement, it's even more vital that we maintain this progress.
"Here in the Commonwealth, steady investment in projects that reduce polluted runoff from cities and suburbs should be a priority. In rural areas, farmers are working hard to reduce agricultural pollution with help from Virginia's cost-share program. These efforts will need continued support from the Commonwealth.
"The improved State of the Bay is welcome news, but there's a lot left to be done. Despite challenges, with problem solving and creativity we can have a fully restored Bay, leading to a better quality of life and livelihood for Virginians."