Assessment Finds Most of Chesapeake Bay in Poor Health

While significant advances in restoration efforts were made through newly focused programs, legislation and funding, the overall health of the Chesapeake Bay remains degraded, according to the Chesapeake Bay Program (CBP).

On April 18, the CBP released its Chesapeake Bay 2006 Health and Restoration Assessment reports. These documents were developed to provide a synopsis of Chesapeake Bay health and the on-the-ground restoration efforts taking place across the bay watershed.

"While the partnership is making strides in certain restoration efforts, there are significant challenges ahead," said Jeff Lape, director of the CBP office. "We are counting on the continued resolve of all our partners to forge ahead to reach our Chesapeake Bay goals."

Findings in the health assessment include:

  • Less than one-third of water quality goals for the bay have been met.
  • The bay's habitats and lower food webs are at about one-third of desired levels.
  • Many of the bay's fish and shellfish population remain below desired levels.

Specific indicators find that in 2006, dissolved oxygen showed a significant improvement from 2005, to one of the best years on record, though at 37 percent of the goal. Chlorophyll a, a measure of algae, showed slight improvement from last year, while mid-channel water clarity declined slightly. In addition, 53 percent of monitored tidal rivers had chemical contaminants in fish tissue high enough to warrant fish-consumption advisories in those areas.

Bay-wide acreage of underwater grasses decreased by 25 percent in 2006 to the lowest total acreage figure since 1989, covering only 59,090 acres -- or about 32 percent of the 185,000-acre restoration goal. Blue crab, oyster and shad populations also remained well below restoration goals with levels reaching 57 percent, 9 percent and 3 percent of goal, respectively.

With the human population in the watershed currently at more than 16 million and growing by more than 170,000 residents annually, urban and suburban lands have contributed significantly to the degraded condition of the Chesapeake Bay. According to estimates cited by CBP, the pollution increases associated with land development (converting farms and forests to urban/suburban developments) have surpassed the gains achieved from improved landscape design and stormwater management practices.

2006 restoration assessment findings include:

  • About half of the pollution reduction efforts needed to achieve the nutrient goals have been undertaken.
  • Watershed protection efforts are slightly more than two-thirds of the way toward program goals.
  • A newly developed indicator, Fostering Chesapeake Stewardship, has reached two-thirds of its goals.

"From the 2006 data, we can see that the bay program partners must remain committed to cleaning up the Chesapeake," said Carlton Haywood, chair of the CBP's Monitoring and Assessment Subcommittee and director for program operations at the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin. "However, not all of the data we see in the 2006 report is negative. Tremendous strides have been made in an effort to restore the Bay."

Some of the noted 2006 successes include the steep reduction of harmful nutrients discharged from wastewater treatment plants. Nitrogen discharges are at 72 percent of the reduction goal while phosphorous discharges have reached 87 percent of reduction goals. However, pollution-control efforts need to be accelerated in the agricultural sector, with only 45 percent goal achievement in the reduction of nitrogen pollution from agriculture and a 49 percent goal achievement for phosphorous, the report shows.

Electronic versions of the Chesapeake Bay 2006 Health and Restoration Assessment reports can be found at http://www.chesapeakebay.net/assess/index.htm. Detailed information about each indicator can be found at http://www.chesapeakebay.net/indicators.htm. Expanded analysis and interpretation of data as well as the methods used to compile the graphs can be found at http://www.chesapeakebay.net/assess.

The Chesapeake Bay Program is a regional partnership that has directed the restoration of the Chesapeake Bay since 1983.

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