WAY is a coalition of stakeholders being innovative leaders encouraging watershed-based planning, restoration and protection in York County, Pennsylvania, and beyond.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

State of the Chesapeake Bay--Are We There Yet?

In 2014 the new Chesapeake Bay Agreement was signed by all of the interested states and DC. The commitments contained in the agreement are the Chesapeake Bay Program's Goals and Outcomes that the signatories will work on collectively to advance restoration and protection of the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem and its watershed. The amount of pollution that flowed from nine major rivers into the Chesapeake Bay in 2013 was below the 25-year average. While scientists expect this to have a positive impact on the long-term health of the nation’s largest estuary, most of the Bay’s tidal waters remain unhealthy: between 2011 and 2013, just 29 percent of the water quality standards necessary to support underwater plants and animals was achieved.

Earlier this month, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation released it's 2014 State of the Bay report which presents a mix of good and bad news. The great news is water quality indicator scores have improved significantly over the 2008 and 2010 scores. The bad news: blue crabs and striped bass are not doing well. CBF goes on to say "we can celebrate the water quality improvements. However, the Bay and its rivers and streams still constitute a system dangerously out of balance.

Are we there yet? Appears not, but appearances may be misleading. Comparing the CBP's indicators to CBF's indicators is like comparing apples and oranges.

Water quality is but one indicator common with both sets of criteria for measuring the Bay's health and its restoration and protection progress. Albeit, the most important indicator. All other indicators measure cultural, economic, land use, ecosystem types and species of concern, all of which either contribute to water quality degradation or respond to it.

ChesapeakeBayStats provides an the overview information provided for Water Quality, the Agriculture and Wastewater Workgroups priorities and progress. Other important work is being conducted by the Chesapeake Bay Program partnership to restore water quality by implementing pollution reduction practices on urban and suburban lands and reducing pollution deposited in the watershed from the air. Progress in implementing the Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) and in achieving milestones set at the 2009 Executive Council Meeting is also described and shown.

For example, looking at the chart titled "Total Pollutant Loads to the Bay" it clear shows we've come a long way since 1985 reducing nitrogen, phosphorous and sediment loading to the Bay and we've almost achieved the 2017 targets set in the agreement and are progressing towards meeting the 2025 targets also.

In contrast to the above, CBFs overview of the state of the bay in 2014 is generally in agreement but this report continues to give poor improvement scores for water quality.

Most interesting is the left side of this graph--from 1600 to 1970--showing the steady decline (i.e., 100 - 25%) in the bay's health over time. This clearly shows what 300 years of land clearing, subsistance agriculture, intensive logging, mining, population growth, and over fishing has contributed to the bay's decline.

Why then, do some folk expect to see rapid improvements (i.e., 25-50%) in water quality and the bay's health in less than 30 years? The fact is it is improving, steadily and more rapidly than its historical decline! I predict that we will cross the threshold of restoration success (i.e., 50%) by 2025.

The Bay and its watershed are recovering and will continue to improve as long as society is committed to its success.