Wednesday, May 22, 2019

University Of Maryland Chesapeake Bay Report Card Finds Extreme Rainfall In 2018 Affected Indicator Scores, But Bay Retains C Grade

On May 21, the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science released its annual Chesapeake Bay and Watershed Report Card noting indicator scores were affected by the extreme rainfall in 2018 either decreasing the scores or keeping them the same, similar to the results of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s State of the Bay Report.
“While 2018 was a difficult year for Chesapeake health due to high rainfall, we are seeing trends that the Bay is still significantly improving over time. This is encouraging because the Bay is showing resilience to climate change,” said Bill Dennison, Vice President for Science Application at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.
Almost all indicators of Bay health, such as water clarity, underwater grasses, and dissolved oxygen, as well as almost all regions, declined in 2018.
In particular, chlorophyll a and total nitrogen scores had strong declines due to very high rainfall causing nutrient runoff that then fed algal blooms.
However, the overall Bay-wide trend is improving. Since 2014, all regions have been improving or remaining steady.
“Our administration is pleased to see continued improvement in the health and resilience of our most precious natural asset, the Chesapeake Bay. Since taking office, we have been focused on improving the health of the Bay, investing a record $5 billion toward wide-ranging restoration programs. This report, along with the great news that Maryland’s crab population has grown 60%, is yet another promising sign of ongoing improvement of the Bay and that our continued investment is making a difference,” said Maryland Governor Larry Hogan.
Of the many factors that affect Chesapeake Bay health, the extreme precipitation seen in 2018 appears to have had the biggest impact.
The Baltimore area received 72 inches of rain in 2018, which is 170 percent above the normal of 42 inches. As a result, the reporting region closest to Baltimore—the Patapsco and Back Rivers—saw a decline in health, decreasing to an F grade in 2018.
The strongest regional declines were in the Elizabeth River and the Choptank River. The two regions that remained steady were the Lower Bay and the York River.
“The extreme precipitation in 2018 was a key issue, and current science shows that with climate change this area is going to be warmer and wetter,” said Peter Goodwin, President of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. “The Bay is in fact showing resilience in the face of climate change and extreme weather events, underlining that the restoration efforts must remain vigilant to continue these hard-won efforts.”
Fish populations received a B grade, showing a steep decline from the previous year’s score of A. Striped bass numbers sharply declined in 2018, while blue crab and bay anchovy scores declined somewhat (although blue crab are showing a revival in early 2019).
These drops in scores are a cause for concern as smaller populations could lead to further declines in the future.
“This is not the time to put the brakes on efforts to restore the Chesapeake Bay. Our progress has been hampered by extreme weather events, but we must keep fighting,” said U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (MD). “The health of the Chesapeake Bay depends on all of us in the region—federal, state, local, and private partners—working together toward a common goal: the preservation and restoration of the watershed, which in turn ensures better health for our citizens, economy, and local wildlife.”
“Improving the health of the Bay doesn’t happen overnight, or even in a month or a year. We must be constantly vigilant in our efforts to restore the Bay, and that starts with providing adequate funding for the Chesapeake Bay Program and other cleanup efforts,” said U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (MD). “I will continue working through my role on the Appropriations Committee to prevent attempts to cut funding and to provide the Bay with the resources it needs to thrive.”
Actions that individuals can take to contribute to a cleaner Bay include reducing fertilizer use from all sources, carpooling and using public transportation, and connecting with people across the entire Bay Watershed to work together.
This is the 13th year that the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science’s Integration and Application Network has produced the report card. It is the longest-running and most comprehensive assessment of Chesapeake Bay and its waterways.
This report card uses extensive data and analysis which enhances and supports the science, management, and restoration of the Bay.
For more information, visit the 2018 Chesapeake Bay Report Card webpage.
Chesapeake Bay Foundation Director of Science and Agricultural Policy Beth McGee issued this statement on the results, saying “Despite the setbacks observed in 2018, long-term trends are moving in the right direction. The Bay is showing increased resiliency that reduces short-term damage and should speed recovery from extreme weather events.
“The Bay is recovering but it is a fragile recovery. Extreme weather caused by climate change means pollution must be reduced even more from sources we can control. The states and federal government must do more to save the Bay.
“The report includes new indicators to assess ecosystem health throughout the watershed, not just the tidal areas. One finding was that nitrogen scores were typically better in rural areas compared to urban waterways. As the states are currently developing the final phase of their clean-up plans, this underscores the need to accelerate efforts to address pollution from urban and suburban runoff as well as to continue to make progress reducing pollution from agriculture, which is still the largest source.”
For more on Chesapeake Bay-related issues in Pennsylvania, visit the Chesapeake Bay Foundation-PA webpage.  Click Here to sign up for Pennsylvania updates (bottom of left column).  Click Here to support their work.
The PA Chesapeake Bay Watershed Implementation Plan is now available for public comment until June 7.  The Plan outlines the steps Pennsylvania will take to meet its Chesapeake Bay cleanup obligations. Click Here for more information.
The PA Organization for Watersheds and Rivers is hosting a May 28 Webinar and a May 31 public meeting in Lewisburg, Union County to provide an opportunity for the public to hear an overview of the draft PA Chesapeake Bay Watershed Implementation Plan and ask questions.  Click Here for more information.
(Photo: Muddy Susquehanna River after heavy rainfall at Conowingo Dam just south of the PA-MD border.)
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