Bay’s score drops to a D+
Scientists say record rain to blame for first decline in the past decade
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.