Bay's Health Declines Slightly | WYPR

Bay's Health Declines Slightly

Jan 5, 2021

The harbor at Smith Island in the Chesapeake
Credit Joel McCord

The Chesapeake Bay isn’t in as good a shape as it was two years ago, but it’s not because of pollution. That’s according to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s State of the Bay report card, released Tuesday morning.

The foundation gave the bay a grade of D+, the same as in its 2018 report card, but said its score had dropped by a point, from 33 to 32. And that was largely due to a sharp decline in the rockfish population.

Bay Foundation scientist Chris Moore called it the largest drop in more than a decade and said the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission has ordered an 18 percent cut in the harvest of the fish along the East Coast.

“This is to hopefully stop overfishing very quickly, and hopefully get the population to start responding in a positive manner,” he said.

The foundation grades the bay on what it calls 13 indicators—the health of fish populations and underwater grasses, the water quality and so forth. Four of those indicators declined, but the others either improved or remained steady.

For example, nitrogen and phosphorous pollution scores improved, as did the level of dissolved oxygen in the water. In fact, the 2020 dead zone, the area where there isn’t enough oxygen in the water for fish and plants to survive, was the second smallest in Maryland since the 1980s.

Meanwhile, the scores for forest buffers, which help control the flow of pollutants, and underwater grasses declined. The grasses declined because of heavy rains over the last two years washing sediment into the water.

Bay Foundation president Will Baker said that while the bay’s decline hasn’t been as sharp as in previous years, the grade is a “sober reminder that the road ahead remains steep and the clock is ticking.”

“There are only five years left to go until the Chesapeake clean water blueprints 2025 deadline,” he warned.

By then the five states in the bay watershed--Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania and New York-- and the District of Columbia, should have pollution reduction plans in place and have all programs implemented “to be on track for a fully saved Bay," he said.

Baker called out the Trump administration for reversing clean air and clean water regulations and trying to eliminate or severely cut funding for bay restoration efforts. And he said he is optimistic that President Elect Joe Biden "will take the protection of water quality and human health seriously."