Ch­e­sa­peake Bay health score drops to D+

The Kent Island Bay Times - - Front Page - By CHRISTINA ACOSTA ca­[email protected]­es­pub.com

AN­NAPO­LIS — Heavy rains that brought ad­di­tional pol­lu­tion down­stream last year con­trib­uted to the first de­cline in a decade to the over­all health of the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay, ac­cord­ing to a re­port re­leased Mon­day, Jan. 7.

The Bay’s health grade sank from a C-mi­nus in 2016 to a D-plus in the 2018 State of the Bay, a bi­en­nial re­port is­sued by the non­profit Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Foun­da­tion.

The Bay scored a 33 out of a pos­si­ble 100 af­ter sci­en­tists mea­sured 13 in­di­ca­tors in three cat­e­gories, in­clud­ing pol­lu­tion, habi­tat and fish­eries. The re­port cited record rains last year that brought large amounts of pol­lu­tants down­stream, mostly from Penn­syl­va­nia, but also from other re­gions.

“Sim­ply put, the Bay suf­fered a mas­sive as­sault in 2018,” said Will Baker, the group’s pres­i­dent. “The Bay’s sus­tained im­prove­ment was re­versed in 2018, ex­pos­ing just how frag­ile the re­cov­ery is.”

“As a re­sult, for the first time in 10 years, CBF’s State of the Bay re­port score de­clined from a C-mi­nus to a D-plus, and that’s the bad news,” Baker said. “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 dump pol­luted runoff into our wa­ters.”

Beth McGee, a se­nior sci­en­tist at the foun­da­tion, which has re­leased the re­port on the Bay’s health since 1998, also high­lighted the ef­fect of the rains, which washed enor­mous amounts of de­bris from the Susque­hanna River in Penn­syl­va­nia south into Mary­land wa­ters and into the na­tion’s largest es­tu­ary.

“While some in­di­ca­tors im­proved or stayed the same, scores for the Bay’s two

sys­temic pol­lu­tants — ni­tro­gen and phos­pho­rous — de­creased sub­stan­tially, re­flect­ing in­creased loads caused by the high rain­fall in 2018 and above av­er­age loads in 2017,” McGee said. “The score for wa­ter clar­ity also dropped — an­other ca­su­alty of the record rain.”

Baker said the Bay is fac­ing some of the most se­ri­ous chal­lenges ever seen. The Susque­hanna River, which sup­plies about half of the Bay’s fresh wa­ter, is “se­verely pol­luted,” he said, and pol­lu­tion at­tached to sed­i­ment that once stayed largely be­hind the Conowingo Dam is no longer trapped be­hind the dam’s walls.

Of the pri­mary Bay states, Vir­ginia and Mary­land were close to meet­ing the 2017 goals but need to ac­cel­er­ate pol­lu­tion re­duc­tion from agri­cul­ture and ur­ban/sub­ur­ban runoff. Penn­syl­va­nia con­tin­ues to be far short of its goals, mostly as a re­sult of fall­ing be­hind in ad­dress­ing pol­lu­tion from agri­cul­ture.

“Penn­syl­va­nia’s farm­ers are fac­ing tough eco­nomic times and can’t im­ple­ment the nec­es­sar y prac­tices on their own. The Com­mon­wealth must join Mar yland and Vir­ginia to fund proven clean wa­ter ini­tia­tives to help farm­ers,” McGee, CBF’s di­rec­tor of sci­ence and agri­cul­tural pol­icy, said. “If the state leg­is­la­ture does not fund ef­forts to re­duce pol­lu­tion in its next ses­sion, EPA must hold Penn­syl­va­nia ac­count­able.”

McGee added that the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Foun­da­tion is stand­ing with the Mary­land Depart­ment of the En­vi­ron­ment to re­quire that Ex­elon mit­i­gates for the down­stream wa­ter qual­ity dam­age caused by its op­er­a­tion of the Conowingo Dam. This changes the tim­ing and form of pol­lu­tion reach­ing down­stream wa­ters.

“One cost-ef­fec­tive mit­i­ga­tion op­tion is to help re­duce the pol­lu­tion com­ing down the Susque­hanna River be­fore it can ever reach the dam,” McGee said.

Deb­o­rah Klenotic, a spokes­woman for the Penn­syl­va­nia Depart­ment of En­vi­ron­men­tal Protection, said Penn­syl­va­nia state agen­cies have been col­lab­o­rat­ing with lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties, the agri­cul­tural in­dus­try, busi­nesses and en­vi­ron­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tions to im­prove wa­ter qual­ity.

“Penn­syl­va­nia has been work­ing dili­gently to be a good part­ner on Bay clean-up ef­forts and is work­ing col­lab­o­ra­tively with farm­ers and other stake­hold­ers to im­ple­ment best prac­tices for sed­i­ment con­trol in the wa­ter­shed area,” Klenotic wrote in an email.

Of the 13 in­di­ca­tors eval­u­ated by sci­en­tists, wa­ter clar­ity, ni­tro­gen and phos­pho­rus showed large de­clines. The drop was largely due to in­creased pol­lu­tion and poor wa­ter clar­ity caused by record re­gional rain­fall, ac­cord­ing to the re­port.

Dis­solved oxy­gen was at 42, equiv­a­lent to a C (up two points from 2016); un­der wa­ter grasses scored 25, equiv­a­lent to a D (up a point from 2016); and re­source lands was 33, equiv­a­lent to a D plus (up one point from 2016).

In the pol­lu­tion cat­e­gory, tox­ics were un­changed at a score of 28 (equiv­a­lent to a D); while wa­ter clar­ity (16, equiv­a­lent to an F), ni­tro­gen (12, equiv­a­lent to an F) and phos­pho­rus (19, equiv­a­lent to an F) were worse.

In the habi­tat cat­e­gory, scores for Bay grasses and re­source lands im­proved, and for­est buf­fers (57, equiv­a­lent to a B) and wet­lands (42, equiv­a­lent to a C) re­mained the same.

In the fish­eries cat­e­gory, scores for oys­ters (10, equiv­a­lent to an F), blue crabs (55, equiv­a­lent to a B) and rock­fish (66, equiv­a­lent to an A mi­nus) re­mained the same, while the score for shad (10, equiv­a­lent to an F) de­clined.

Es­tab­lished in 1998, CBF’s State of the Bay Re­port is a com­pre­hen­sive mea­sure of the Bay’s health. This year’s score is still far short of the goal to reach 40 by 2025 and ul­ti­mately a 70, which would rep­re­sent a saved Bay.

The un­spoiled Bay ecosys­tem de­scribed by Cap­tain John Smith in the 1600s, with its ex­ten­sive forests and wet­lands, clear wa­ter, abun­dant fish and oys­ters, and lush growths of sub­merged veg­e­ta­tion serves as the the­o­ret­i­cal bench­mark and would rate a 100 on CBF’s scale.

The Clean Wa­ter Blueprint re­quires the Bay ju­ris­dic­tions to de­crease pol­lu­tion to lo­cal creeks, rivers, and the Bay. State and lo­cal govern­ments have com­mit­ted to achieve spe­cific, mea­sur­able re­duc­tions. The states agreed to have the 60 per­cent of the needed pro­grams and prac­tices in place by 2017, and to com­plete the job by 2025.

“De­spite th­ese set­backs, the ecosys­tem is show­ing re­silience to this year’s en­vi­ron­men­tal stres­sors due to in­creas­ing growth of un­der wa­ter veg­e­ta­tion and ro­bust in­vest­ments in land preser­va­tion,” Ali­son Prost, Mar yland ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Foun­da­tion, said. “We must also fo­cus on mak­ing pol­icy changes to en­sure the Ch­e­sa­peake Clean Wa­ter Blueprint can han­dle the re­al­i­ties of chang­ing weather pat­terns that chal­lenge the Bay’s long-term health. Ex­pand­ing Mar yland’s pro­tec­tions for oys­ters and forests are changes lead­ers should pur­sue to make the Bay more re­silient.”

Ac­cord­ing to Baker, with Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump be­ing in de­nial of cli­mate change, the ef­fects are al­ready be­ing felt. Baker pointed out that this is a crit­i­cal time in the his­tory of the Bay restora­tion, and there is a choice Amer­i­cans must make.

“The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s anti-en­vi­ron­men­tal poli­cies must be stopped,” said Baker. “There is a moral im­per­a­tive for ev­ery­one here to stand up and op­pose the ad­min­is­tra­tions de­nial of cli­mate change and ef­forts to roll back en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tions. Clean wa­ter and clean air should be a right, not a lux­ury that we have to fight for. It’s a fight the Amer­i­can pub­lic will give to them. Amer­i­cans are en­vi­ron­men­tal lead­ers, and we must not al­low our val­ues to be stomped on.”

PHOTO BY DAVID SITES

The sun­shine re­flects off the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Bridge mak­ing it ap­pear golden. In the Bay be­neath it, wa­ter qual­ity has been rated a D+ by the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Foun­da­tion, due to in­creased pol­lu­tion and poor wa­ter clar­ity largely caused by record re­gional rain­fall.

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