More healthy news for wa­ter­ways

Maryland Independent - - Community Forum -

Wa­ter­ways that form the bound­aries of South­ern Mary­land have been get­ting a cleaner bill of health lately, as ev­i­denced by these three re­cent de­vel­op­ments:

In March, in its an­nual re­port, the watch­dog agency Po­tomac Con­ser­vancy gave the river its high­est-ever grade, a B-.

Then last month, the Mary­land Depart­ment of Nat­u­ral Re­sources re­ported the find­ings of its lat­est win­ter dredge sur­vey — the state’s blue crab pop­u­la­tion is up by 35 per­cent over the last year.

And then on Fri­day, DNR said it has mapped a new record high of 53,277 acres of sub­merged aquatic grasses in Mary­land’s por­tion of the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay.

It’s all good news for the en­tire bay wa­ter­shed, but what does this all mean? Does it in­di­cate that closer state reg­u­la­tory scru­tiny, con­ser­va­tion ef­forts of groups and in­di­vid­ual cit­i­zens and cleanup work has been ef­fec­tive? Yes. Does it mean South­ern Mary­land and the state in gen­eral can let up now? No.

Let’s ex­am­ine each piece of good news about the area’s wa­ter­ways. Five years ago, the Po­tomac was judged to be quite sick, given a grade of D. In 2013, the group’s grade im­proved to a C. Hedrick Belin, pres­i­dent of the Po­tomac Con­ser­vancy, now says the group’s stated goal of mak­ing it a swimmable, fish­able river again by 2025 can be at­tained. The group’s re­port high­lighted that the top three pol­lu­tants in the river — nitro­gen, phos­pho­rus and sed­i­ment — have been on a steady de­cline. Some key in­dige­nous species of fish are on the rise, such as white perch and shad. But Belin cau­tioned, “the Po­tomac is not in the clear yet.”

Let’s turn now to crabs. DNR’s win­ter dredge sur­vey, con­ducted in con­cert with the Vir­ginia In­sti­tute of Ma­rine Sci­ence since 1990, is the pri­mary as­sess­ment of the Ch­e­sa­peake’s blue crab pop­u­la­tion. The 2016 re­port, us­ing data col­lected from 1,500 sites through­out the bay, re­vealed that the crab’s num­bers are up to 553 mil­lion.

DNR re­ported the num­bers for both sexes were en­cour­ag­ing. The num­ber of spawn­ing-age fe­males went from 101 mil­lion to 194 mil­lion since the last sur­vey. That’s still below the state’s tar­get of 215 mil­lion, but above the min­i­mum thresh­old DNR es­tab­lished five years ago. And the num­ber of adult male crabs more than dou­bled from 44 mil­lion to 91 mil­lion. This is the sec­ond-high­est level since 1995, ac­cord­ing to DNR. Ex­perts at­tribute this to a warmer win­ter and slightly stricter rules on crab pot­ters and trot­lin­ers.

Those are healthy signs, but vege­ta­tion is also a key com­po­nent. The health of un­der­wa­ter grasses and wa­ter clar­ity are in­di­ca­tors of am­ple oxy­gen con­tent, which in turn leads to the health of ev­ery­thing else in the wa­ter­shed. DNR’s map­ping of sub­merged aquatic grasses in Mary­land’s part of the bay found that vege­ta­tion in­creased 29 per­cent from 2014 to 2015. DNR says Mary­land is now at nearly 94 per­cent of its restora­tion goal of 57,000 acres of healthy aquatic grasses by next year.

All of this is en­cour­ag­ing news. But the key to main­tain­ing healthy wa­ter­ways re­mains re­spon­si­ble stew­ard­ship, which in­cludes con­ser­va­tion and avoid­ing pol­lu­tion and lit­ter. That’s some­thing to which ev­ery­one can con­trib­ute.

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