Bay sees ‘near-record’ wa­ter qual­ity

Kent County News - - NEWS - By JOSH BOLLINGER jbollinger@star­dem.com

— Wa­ter qual­ity in the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay has reached a near-record high, ac­cord­ing to es­ti­mates an­nounced Dec. 14 by the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Pro­gram.

Ac­cord­ing to pre­lim­i­nary data from the U.S. Ge­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey, al­most 40 per­cent of the Bay and its tidal trib­u­taries met clean wa­ter stan­dards for clar­ity, oxy­gen and al­gae growth be­tween 2014 and 2016, which rep­re­sents an in­crease of 2 per­cent from the pre­vi­ous as­sess­ment pe­riod, ac­cord­ing to the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Pro­gram.

Sci­en­tists are rea­son­ing it is due in large part to a rise in dis­solved oxy­gen in the deep chan­nel of the Bay.

“The im­prov­ing trends in wa­ter qual­ity stan­dards at­tain­ment follow sim­i­lar trends in other in­di­ca­tors that we track. The acreage of un­der­wa­ter grasses has in­creased to more than 50 per­cent of its goal,” Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Pro­gram Di­rec­tor Nick DiPasquale said.

“In ad­di­tion, we are see­ing an in­crease in the di­ver­sity of grass species and the den­sity of grass beds. We also are wit­ness­ing im­prove­ments in sev­eral fish­eries, in­clud­ing blue crabs, oys­ters and rock­fish,” DiPasquale said. “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.”

Ex­cess nu­tri­ents have caused is­sues with the Bay’s wa­ter qual­ity, and a large ef­fort is un­der­way across the wa­ter­shed in Mary­land, Vir­ginia, West Vir­ginia, Penn­syl­va­nia, New York, Delaware and Wash­ing­ton, D.C. to re­duce pol­lu­tion. The ef­fort is mon­i­tored by the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Pro­gram, un­der the um­brella of the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency.

While the Bay as a whole has reached a near-record high in terms of wa­ter qual­ity records, most con­di­tions in the Mid-Shore’s Chop­tank River have been de­grad­ing, ac­cord­ing to the pre­lim­i­nary data.

The Chop­tank River is one of the nine largest rivers in the wa­ter­shed where mon­i­tor­ing data was col­lected. In terms of ni­tro­gen re­duc­tions, the Chop­tank River was the only sta­tion with data that in­di­cated de­grad­ing con­di­tions, ac­cord­ing to the es­ti­mates.

USGS Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Co­or­di­na­tor Scott Phillips said the data comes from mon­i­tor­ing sta­tions in the up­per fresh­wa­ter por­tion of the Chop­tank River near Greens­boro, where ground­wa­ter feeds into the river.

“So when fer­til­izer was put on more in­ten­sively back in the 1970s and ‘80s, a lot of that seeped into the ground­wa­ter, and that wa­ter is still mak­ing its way into the rivers. So we’re see­ing the re­sults of the past decades when there was higher fer­til­izer use,” Phillips said.

Most re­cently, the use of fer­til­izer — which car­ries nu­tri­ents like phos­pho­rus and ni­tro­gen — has been re­duced and con­ser­va­tion mea­sures have been set up by farm­ers. How­ever, since it can take decades for ground­wa­ter to move into lo­cal rivers and the Bay, “we haven’t seen those most re­cent land changes show up in the (Greens­boro) mon­i­tor­ing site yet,” Phillips said.

Chop­tank River­keeper Matt Pluta said the river re­cently has seen slight im­prove­ments in ShoreRivers’ data, mainly in the lower tidal por­tion of the river, where it is closer to the main stem of the Bay and the river’s wa­ter mixes with the main stem’s wa­ter.

“The Chop­tank can’t be looked at as just one sys­tem be­cause we’re re­ally see­ing two dif­fer­ent pic­tures de­pend­ing on what re­gion you’re sam­pling wa­ter in. The lower part of the river — mostly in­flu­enced by the wa­ter com­ing in from the Bay — is im­prov­ing, and that’s consistent with what the (USGS data) says about wa­ter qual­ity in the Bay-proper im­prov­ing over­all,” Pluta wrote in an email. “But when you start to look at the up­per part of the Chop­tank — where it’s mostly in­flu­enced by the in­puts com­ing off our land — you see a pic­ture where wa­ter qual­ity is still in bad shape and in cer­tain places still de­grad­ing.”

PHOTO BY JOSH BOLLINGER

Wa­ter qual­ity in the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay has reached a near­record high, ac­cord­ing to es­ti­mates re­leased last week by the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Pro­gram.

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