Bay sees ‘near-record’ water quality
— 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.”
Water quality in the Chesapeake Bay has reached a nearrecord high, according to estimates released last week by the Chesapeake Bay Program.