Chesapeake Bay Water Quality Standards Near Record Highs for Aquatic Habitat, Still Struggling With Nutrients

Bay Journal article (2017-12-15) reported that for the 2014-2016 period, Chesapeake Bay water quality standards for clarity, dissolved oxygen, algae concentrations and Bay grasses remained at near record highs since the standards first began to be monitored in 1985. The results were announced by Chesapeake Progress, a monitoring and information arm of the Chesapeake Bay Program.

The 2014-2016 numbers indicated that 39.2 percent of the Bay was healthy enough to support Bay creatures (worms, shellfish, fish). The numbers nearly tie the all-time record established during the 2008-2010 reporting period when 39.5 percent of the Chesapeake met the standards. From the article:

Officials said the numbers show that decades-long cleanup efforts have improved conditions in recent years, including a record-high abundance of underwater grasses, a key indicator of the estuary’s health. Still, Bay Program officials and environmental advocates alike noted that the latest figures show that 60 percent of the Bay falls short of water quality objectives.

“While these improving trends are encouraging, we must ramp up our efforts to implement pollution control measures to ensure progress toward 100 percent of the water-quality standards is achieved throughout the Bay and its tidal waters,” said Nick DiPasquale, director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Bay Program Office.

However, the article also noted that other recent data released by the U.S. Geological Survey showed that the Bay and its tributaries are still struggling with nitrogen and phosphorus loading and do not appear on track to fully meet the 2025 Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) targets for those nutrients:

That lag seems to be confirmed by separate water-quality data released this week by the U.S. Geological Survey, which showed that among the Bay’s nine largest tributaries, four had improving nitrogen levels, four were getting worse, and one had no trend over the last decade.

For phosphorus, the other key nutrient, only one tributary — the Patuxent River in Maryland — showed improvement, while five got worse and three had no trend.

“Our water is getting cleaner, leading to smaller dead zones and more Bay grasses and oysters,” said Beth McGee, Chesapeake Bay Foundation director of science and agricultural policy. “But water quality still has to improve in 60 percent of the Bay, meaning that we can’t take our foot off the gas pedal. We need increased efforts from both the states and federal government.” …

“Robust funding, science, and stewardship are paying off and cleaning up the Bay, but we still have a long way to go,” said Ben Grumbles, secretary of the Maryland Department of the Environment.

Useful Links

2014-2016 Chesapeake Bay Monitoring Data by Chesapeake Progress

U.S. Geological Survey Chesapeake Bay Nontidal Tributary Monitoring