Bay’s score drops to a D+

Sci­en­tists say record rain to blame for first de­cline in the past decade

The Calvert Recorder - - Front Page - By DANDAN ZOU [email protected]­

A new re­port rates the health of the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay at D+, a first-time de­cline in a decade since the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Foun­da­tion started the bi­en­nial re­port in 1998.

Re­leased on Mon­day, the re­port at­tributes the bay’s de­cline largely to the record-break­ing amount of rain that washed more pol­lu­tion into the bay last year.

“Sim­ply put, the bay suf­fered a mas­sive as­sault in 2018,” said Will Baker, pres­i­dent of the Ch­e­sa­peake Foun­da­tion, in a press con­fer­ence Mon­day. “The bay’s sus­tained im­prove­ment was re­versed in 2018, ex­pos­ing just how frag­ile the re­cov­ery is.”

The cur­rent state of the bay is mea­sured against a the­o­ret­i­cal 100 — es­sen­tially the idyl­lic bay Capt. John Smith cre­atively de­scribed when he ar­rived in the early 17th cen­tury. The new re­port gives the bay a score of 33, down one point from 2016.

“Clean­ing up the bay is long-term and dif­fi­cult. Set­backs hap­pen,” Ali­son Prost, the foun­da­tion’s Mary­land ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, said in a state­ment. “In Mary­land, we’re grap­pling with heavy rains this year that caused ex­tended high flows in the Susque­hanna River, which flushed de­bris, sed­i­ment and other pol­lu­tants into the bay.”

In lo­cal coun­ties like St. Mary’s, weather watch­ers recorded rain­fall inches rang­ing from mid 50s to the high 70s , far sur­pass-

ing the av­er­age 43 inches a year. Heavy rains brought large amounts of sed­i­ment and runoff into the bay, caus­ing wa­ter clar­ity to worsen. Nu­tri­ents like ni­tro­gen and phos­pho­rus pol­lu­tion also in­creased as a re­sult.

Sci­en­tists say the up­side, how­ever, is the bay is show­ing signs of re­silien- cy in the face of in­creased pol­lu­tion.

“The good news is there are signs the bay is de­vel­op­ing a re­silience that may help it over­come long-term dam­age caused by record storms and rain­fall, which dumped pol­luted runoff into our wa­ters,” Baker said.

The grow­ing un­der­wa­ter grass, an im­por­tant in­di­ca­tor of the bay’s health, is one of the ex­am­ples.

“Worth not­ing is that in 2017, the acres of un- der­wa­ter grasses in the bay were the high­est ever since they had been mon­i­tor­ing since the mid1980s,” said Beth McGee, a se­nior sci­en­tist at the foun­da­tion. Bay grass, dis­solved oxy­gen and re­source lands showed im­prove­ment. The other 10 in­di­ca­tors mea­sured by the re­port ei­ther wors­ened or re­mained the same. Fish­eries largely re­mained the same.

“Oys­ter pop­u­la­tions re­mained at low lev­els, and wild fish­ery har­vests were down dra­mat­i­cally but oys­ter aqua­cul­ture con­tin­ues to thrive,” the re­port said. “Rock­fish and crab pop­u­la­tions re­mained sta­ble over the past two year.”

Fac­ing a “grim re­al­ity,” Baker said the ju­ris­dic­tions in the bay water­shed must con­tinue to im­ple­ment the Ch­e­sa­peake Clean Wa­ter Blue­print and be­gin to ad­dress cli­mate change. Six states — Mary­land, Virginia, Penn­syl­va­nia, West Virginia, Delaware and New York — and the District of Columbia, which drain into the bay, agreed to meet cer­tain cleanup goals by 2025. The blue­print in­cludes pol­lu­tion lim­its, pol­lu­tion re­duc­tion plans spe­cific to the states, two-year mile­stones to eval­u­ate progress and con­se­quences for fail­ure.

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