The health of the Chesapeake Bay improved last year to its highest level since 2002, according to the latest annual report card released by the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES), which gave the Bay a health grade of C.
The 2009 report card notes improved conditions in eight regions of the Bay and continued degraded conditions in two regions. Grades for 14 individual regions were averaged together for an overall Bay health grade of C.
The highest-ranked region for the third year in a row was a B-minus on the upper western shore of Maryland, which includes the Bush and Gunpowder rivers. The Upper Bay Region which includes the Susquehanna River received a C+. The lowest-ranked region was the Patapsco and Back rivers, which received an F.
Scientists attribute the health improvements to last year’s unique regional rainfall patterns, continued efforts to reduce nutrient pollution, and the gradual rebound in Bay health since historically poor conditions observed in 2003.
“Despite the record high rainfall in parts of Maryland and Virginia, the mainstem of the Chesapeake Bay improved last year,” said UMCES researcher and project leader Dr. William Dennison. “Normally, more precipitation means poorer Bay health. But last year, the Bay benefited from below average rainfall throughout Pennsylvania which appears to have reduced the amount of pollutants reaching the open waters of the mainstem Bay.”
In 2009, SRBC announced findings from four separate river monitoring programs providing biological and water quality data used to assess streams and rivers and identify changes in stream health over time. For water quality conditions, only 6.9 percent of the values exceeded their respective limits, indicating fairly good water quality in the Susquehanna River. In PA-MD streams, nutrients continue to be the biggest concern.
Over the report card's 24-year history, Bay health was rated at its highest in 1993 with a score of 57, and it lowest in 2003 with a score of 35. The 2009 rating of 46 falls in the top 25 percentile.
An encouraging sign in the Bay’s health has been an improvement in water clarity over the past two to three years. There was a 12 percent increase in water clarity in 2009. The most dramatic improvements were in the middle regions of the Bay, including the Bay’s mainstem and the Choptank, Potomac and Rappahannock rivers. However, the reporting regions with chronically poor water clarity – the Patapsco and Back rivers, Maryland’s lower western shore, and the York and Elizabeth rivers – still had muddy, turbid water.
The Chesapeake Bay Report Card is an annual analysis conducted through the EcoCheck partnership between UMCES and the NOAA Chesapeake Bay Office using data collected by Bay Program partners.
For more information about the 2009 Chesapeake Bay Report Card, including maps, charts and data, visit the Chesapeake Eco-Check website www.eco-check.org/reportcard/chesapeake/2009/.