State of the Bay: Water quality improvements offset by fisheries declines

ANNAPOLIS — According to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, its biennial State of the Bay Report “is a mix of good and bad news.” The good news is that the overall pollution score improved, but that improvement was offset by declines in fisheries.

“While we can celebrate water quality improvements, we must also acknowledge that many local rivers, streams, and the Chesapeake Bay are still polluted. They remain a system dangerously out of balance,” said CBF President William C. Baker. “The Clean Water Blueprint is in place and working, but there are danger signs ahead. The states must pick up the pace of reducing pollution, especially from farms and urban areas.”

The 2014 State of the Bay Report is a comprehensive measure of the Bay’s health. CBF scientists compile and examine the best available historical and up-to-date information for 13 indicators in three categories: pollution, habitat, and fisheries. CBF scientists assign each indicator an index score between 1 and 100. Taken together, these indicators offer an assessment of Bay health.

The 2014 report score is 32, a D+, unchanged from the 2012 score. The report notes improvements in dissolved oxygen, water clarity, oysters, and underwater grasses. Nitrogen, toxics, shad, resource lands, forested buffers, and wetlands were unchanged. Declines were seen in scores for phosphorus, and rockfish, and blue crabs.

This year’s score is still far short of the goal of 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 benchmark, and would rate a 100 on CBF’s scale.

“We know that budgets are tight in all the major Chesapeake Bay states; however pollution has cost thousands of jobs and continues to put human health at risk,” Baker said. “In addition, our recent economic report found that investing in the Clean Water Blueprint will return significant economic benefits to the region. Once the Blueprint is fully implemented, the economic benefits throughout the region will increase by $22 billion annually.”

The Clean Water Blueprint requires all of us in all the Bay states to ratchet down pollution to local creeks, rivers, and the Bay. State and local governments are responsible for achieving specific, measurable reductions. The states are to have the programs in place by 2025 to restore water quality, with an interim goal of 60 percent of those programs in place by 2017, just two years from now. If the states fail, they may lose federal funding or be denied federal permits.

“We have never before had this level of accountability and transparency in Bay restoration efforts,” Baker said. “This is indeed THE moment in time for the Bay. Our children and grandchildren can inherit a restored Chesapeake Bay, but only if we continue the hard work and investments that will lead to success.”

To meet their pollution-reduction goals, the Bay states are relying heavily on reducing pollution from agriculture. “Unfortunately,” the CBF contends, “while farmers are reducing pollution the region is not on track to meet its 2017 goals.”

In Maryland alone, the CBF believes the state must reduce phosphorus runoff, plant more trees to reduce pollution from urban and suburban runoff, plus strengthen state permits and enforce existing laws.

“To date, Maryland has been on track to meet the goals it set,” said CBF Maryland Executive Director Alison Prost. “In order to continue to make progress, Maryland’s newly elected officials will need to stand up for clean water and its citizens must hold them accountable, ensuring we all play by the same rules.”

Likewise in Virginia, it is on track to meet its short-term goals to reduce pollution from farms but must also work with the Virginia Marine Resources Commission to strengthen the commonwealth’s oyster fisheries laws. It must also continue the new stormwater management program.

A link to the entire State of the Bay report is at www.cbf.org.

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