A Bay Journal article (2017-05-08) reported that the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES) has given the health of the Chesapeake Bay for 2016 a “C” grade in its annual report card. The article noted that this is the fifth straight year the Chesapeake’s overall grade received a “C” from the UMCES report card, but that each year has shown continued improvement. The overall 2016 score of 54 percent represented a 1 percent increase over the 2015 score.
The UMCES Chesapeake Bay report card is based on 7 indicators: (1) dissolved oxygen; (2) nitrogen; (3) phosphorus; (4) chlorophyll a; (5) water clarity; (6) aquatic grasses; and (7) benthic community. These indicators are combined into an Overall Health Index, which is broken down by Bay region or major tributary. The report card also measures blue crab, bay anchovy, and striped bass populations, but these are not included in the formal score.
The 2016 report card found that Bay regions or tributaries earned grades ranging from a “D” (Elizabeth River and Patapsco/Back Rivers) to a “B” (Lower Bay). No regions or tributaries showed a decline – all either showed “no change” from last year or “significant improvement.”
From the report card:
Bay-wide, dissolved oxygen continues to be the best-scoring indicator. Dissolved oxygen scored 90% in 2016, an A. Total phosphorus strongly improved, scoring 82%, an A-, which is a positive development considering last year’s decline. While the total nitrogen score went down in 2016 to 55%, a C+, it is still improving in the long term. Water clarity scored 24%, a D-; chlorophyll a scored 35%, a D+; aquatic grasses scored 39%, a D+; all remaining the same as the previous year. Benthic community declined the most since 2015, scoring 54%, a C.
Total phosphorus, total nitrogen, and aquatic grasses all have significantly improving trends. Water clarity and chlorophyll a have significantly declining trends. Dissolved oxygen and benthic community show no significant change in health over time.
From the Bay Journal article:
Sen. Ben Cardin, D-MD, and officials from Maryland and the Environmental Protection Agency turned out for a press conference in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor to celebrate the Bay’s progress, while cautioning that much more needs to be done.
“It gives us all who didn’t start out getting good grades hope,” Cardin said.
While not a huge improvement, the score is the second highest the Bay has earned since the annual assessments began in 1986, with only 2002 rating slightly higher. The scientist overseeing the report card said he takes heart from that, and the fact that the Bay’s health has held steady in recent years despite many pressures on it, both natural and man-made.
“I’m more optimistic than I’ve been in a long time,” said Bill Dennison, vice president for science applications at UMCES. “This seems to be sustained.” …
Mark Belton, Maryland’s natural resources secretary, welcomed the finding of improved fish abundance at the press conference, saying that “regardless of partisan politics and sniping” the Hogan administration is committed to restoring and sustaining the Bay’s fisheries. The administration has been criticized by environmentalists and Democratic lawmakers for firing a veteran crab fishery manager and for moving to open oyster sanctuaries in response to complaints from some watermen.
The article also noted the call by both Cardin and UMCES officials for maintaining the $73 million in federal funding for Chesapeake Bay restoration.