Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Chesapeake Bay Foundation Reports Bay Health Down Slightly, But There Is Hope

On January 5, the
Chesapeake Bay Foundation's assessment of the 2020 State of the Bay remained at a D+, but declined by one point from 2018. While concerning, the decline is largely due to ineffective management of the Bay's striped bass population, as opposed to water quality concerns.

Of the 13 indicators CBF assesses, four showed declines. Despite several years of assaults to environmental protections and flagging political will, most water quality measures are showing improvements.

But much more needs to be done.

CBF's Pennsylvania Executive Director Shannon Gority said: "The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection's latest biennial report lists 25,468 miles of Commonwealth waters, 5,500 miles more than in its 2016 report, as being damaged by pollution.

"As the miles of polluted waters continue to grow, it is past time for elected officials at the state and federal levels to provide the leadership, funding, and technical support needed to get the Keystone State back on track toward reaching its Clean Water Blueprint goals by 2025.

"The new year is one of opportunities for legislators to have positive impact on the quality of our air and water, and the health and economic welfare of all Pennsylvanians, by including agricultural and environmental infrastructure in COVID relief strategies. Investments in these sectors will put people to work, provide demand for small businesses, clean up water and air pollution, and combat climate change.

"Farmers in the Keystone State have shown they are willing to invest their time, land, and effort to restore and protect local rivers and streams, but they cannot pay for it all themselves.

"We hope that a bill to establish an agricultural cost-share program to support Pennsylvania's farmers will be re-introduced in 2021. This type of program has been successful in other Bay states and is sorely needed if the Commonwealth is to live up to its clean water commitments."

Efforts must be accelerated to achieve the Chesapeake Bay Clean Water Blueprint goal of implementing practices by 2025 that will reduce pollution sufficiently to restore water quality in local rivers, streams, and the Chesapeake Bay. 

While efforts to save the Bay have been underway for decades, the Blueprint established in 2010 lays out a path to success.

"There is new hope. President-elect Biden has long been a reliable partner in Bay restoration efforts, and we are optimistic that the new administration will take the protection of water quality and human health more seriously," said CBF President William C. Baker. "Pollution is not just a problem here in the Bay, it is a problem around the world. This is a historic opportunity to demonstrate to the world that by following the science, we can save a national treasure."

Established in 1998, CBF's State of the Bay Report is a comprehensive measure of the Bay's health. CBF scientists compile and examine the best available data and information for 13 indicators in three categories: pollution, habitat, and fisheries. 

CBF scientists assign each indicator an index score from 1–100. Taken together, these indicators offer an overall assessment of Bay health.

"The good news is that recent studies provide evidence of the Bay's increased resiliency. This resiliency is a direct result of the pollution reductions achieved to date. But the recovery is still fragile, and the system remains dangerously out of balance," said CBF's Director of Science and Agricultural Policy Beth McGee.

Of the water-quality indicators, nitrogen and phosphorus pollution improved. The level of dissolved oxygen in the water and water clarity, critical to aquatic life, improved as well. In fact, monitoring data indicated the 2020 dead zone, the area of oxygen-low water, was the second best in Maryland since the 1980s and among the best in Virginia. 

There was no change in the toxics score.

Habitat scores are also critical to the health of the Chesapeake Bay. Forests, wetlands, and underwater grasses provide food and shelter to wildlife, serve as natural filters that reduce pollution flowing into Bay waters, and help improve the wellbeing of communities by slowing flood waters, producing oxygen, and providing green spaces.

In the habitat category, the acreage of forested buffers declined slightly, while scores for resource lands and wetlands stayed the same. The score for underwater grasses declined as a result of increased rainfall. The damage from climate change will need to be addressed as part of a comprehensive solution to improving water quality.

The harvest of fish and shellfish support thousands of jobs and generate billions of dollars each year in the Bay watershed. But overfishing, pollution, and habitat loss have reduced the productivity of many of the region's fish and shellfish populations.

In the fisheries category, scores for oysters and crabs improved, while shad and rockfish (striped bass) declined. The rockfish score declined by 17 points, the largest decline in any indicator in more than a decade.

"The situation is deeply concerning. Adult female striped bass, widely used to gauge the overall health of the population, have dropped by approximately 40 percent from 2013 to 2017," said CBF Senior Regional Ecosystem Scientist Chris Moore. "Efforts are underway to halt the decline. However, bold actions are needed now to ensure the recovery of this species and there are concerns that states might settle for a reduced population instead of taking strong management actions."

Click Here for a copy of the 2020 State Of The Bay report.

Cleanup Plans

The Chesapeake Bay Clean Water Blueprint requires the Bay jurisdictions to develop plans to decrease pollution to local creeks, rivers, and the Bay. State and local governments have committed to put practices in place by 2025 to achieve specific, measurable reductions. 

All jurisdictions except for Pennsylvania and New York have plans in place to meet their goals. Pennsylvania's latest plan only achieves 73 percent of its nitrogen-reduction commitments and is underfunded by more than $300 million annually, according to Pennsylvania's own review.

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.

Also visit the Keystone 10 Million Trees Partnership to learn how you can help clean water grow on trees.

CBF has over 275,000 members in Bay Watershed.

[PA Chesapeake Bay Plan

[For more information on how Pennsylvania plans to meet its Chesapeake Bay cleanup obligations, visit DEP’s PA’s Phase 3 Watershed Implementation Plan webpage.

[Click Here for a summary of the steps the Plan recommends.

[How Clean Is Your Stream?

[DEP’s Interactive Report Viewer allows you to zoom in on your own stream or watershed to find out how clean your stream is or if it has impaired water quality using the latest information in the draft 2020 Water Quality Report.].

Related Articles This Week:

-- Foundation For PA Watersheds Schedule For Spring, Fall Grant Applications

-- PA Organization For Watersheds & Rivers Hosts Jan. 15 Webinar On Stream Hydrology And Geomorphology In Restoration Planning 

-- NRCS-PA Hosts Jan. 13 Online Program On Requesting Farm Conservation Assistance

-- Lower, Middle Susquehanna RiverKeepers Urge Public To Use Water Report App To Report Water Quality, Fishing Conditions 

-- Susquehanna River Basin Commission Adopts General Permit For Groundwater Remediation Projects

-- Chesapeake Bay Foundation: New EPA Rule Limits Access To Sound Science

Related Articles:

-- DEP Announces Award Of $34 Million In Growing Greener Grants To Fund 149 Community-Driven Local Water Cleanup Projects Across PA

-- DEP Provides Update On Chesapeake Bay Watershed Implementation Plan Efforts; New Stormwater Manual Coming; Next State Team Meeting Jan. 26

-- CBF: Pennsylvania's Clean Water Wins, Whiffs And Wishes For 2020 And Beyond!

-- CBF: 8 Ways The New Biden Administration Can Save The Chesapeake Bay: #3-- Help PA Farmers With Conservation Practices

-- CBF Praises Congress For Adding $2.5 Million To 2021 Chesapeake Bay Program Budget

[Posted: January 5, 2021]  PA Environment Digest

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