The health of some Virginia rivers is showing signs of improvement, but many of the state’s waterways are still polluted, according to a recent report issued by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).
The report assesses water quality in more than 1,200 Virginia watersheds from January 2003 through December 2008 and includes a statewide list of “impaired” waters.
Water quality is assessed in relation to several “designated uses”: wildlife, aquatic life, swimming, fish consumption, shellfish consumption and public water supply. A waterway is considered impaired if its water quality cannot support one or more of these uses. Several subcategories also exist for the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal tributaries to ensure that water quality in those waterways can support the Bay’s aquatic life.
Pollution continues to plague many streams, rivers and lakes in Virginia, leading to the addition of about 1,400 miles of streams and rivers and 2,500 acres of lakes to this year’s statewide impaired waters list.
More than 430 waters, including about 25 square miles of estuaries, were removed from the list, as they now fully meet water quality standards. An additional 600 waters were removed for at least one impairment.
In addition, the report proposes 80 full delistings and 540 partial delistings.
According to the report, about 5,600 miles of rivers and streams, 16,000 acres of lakes and reservoirs and 113 square miles of estuaries have high water quality that supports some or all of the designated uses. About 12,100 miles of rivers and streams, 96,500 acres of lakes and reservoirs and 2,200 square miles of estuaries are considered impaired.
Of the waters that were assessed, less than one-third of stream and river miles has high water quality; about 14 percent of lake and reservoir acres have high water quality; and less than 5 percent of estuary square miles has high water quality.
“We continue to find watersheds where pollution is a problem, but we also are seeing more areas where water quality has improved,” said Virginia DEQ Director David Paylor. “This is good news that we expect to continue as our cleanup efforts progress throughout the state.”
Every two years Virginia DEQ monitors about one-third of the state’s watersheds on a rotating basis, taking six years to complete a full monitoring cycle. The agency has assessed 98 percent of the state’s watersheds (1,218 out of 1,247) since the 2002 report.
The water quality assessments completed for the Virginia portions of the Bay watershed may help set clean-up plans for the waters that will be part of the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL).
The draft water quality report is available in its entirety at www.deq.virginia.gov. DEQ is soliciting public comment on the report until Sept. 24 at 5 p.m.
There are several different kinds of habitats found in the Bay’s watershed. Each one is important to the survival of the watershed’s diverse wildlife. Habitats also play important roles in Bay restoration.
Chesapeake Bay habitats include:
Forests covered approximately 95 percent of the Bay’s 64,000-square-mile watershed when Europeans arrived in the 17th century. Now, forests only cover about 58 percent of the watershed.
Forests are important because they provide vital habitat for wildlife. Forests also filter pollution, keeping nearby waterways cleaner. Forests act as huge natural sponges that absorb and slowly release excess stormwater runoff, which often contains harmful pollutants. Forests also absorb airborne nitrogen that might otherwise pollute our land and water.
Wetlands are transitional areas between land and water. There are two general categories of wetlands in the Chesapeake Bay watershed: tidal and non-tidal. Tidal wetlands, found along the Bay's shores, are filled with salt or brackish water when the tide rises. Non-tidal wetlands contain fresh water
Just like forests, wetlands act as important buffers, absorbing and slowing the flow of polluted runoff to the Bay and its tributaries.
Streams and rivers not only provide the Chesapeake Bay with its fresh water, they also provide many aquatic species with critical habitat. Fish, invertebrates, amphibians and other wildlife species all depend on the Bay’s tributaries for survival.
When the Bay’s streams and rivers are in poor health, so is the Bay, and the great array of wildlife it harbors is put in danger.
Shallow waters are the areas of water from the shoreline to about 10 feet deep. Shallow waters are constantly changing with the tides and weather throughout the year. The shallows support plant life, fish, birds and shellfish.
Tidal marshes in the Bay's shallows connect shorelines to forests and wetlands. Marshes and provide food and shelter for the wildlife that lives in the Bay's shallow waters. Freshwater marshes are found in the upper Bay, brackish marshes in the middle Bay and salt marshes in the lower Bay.
Aquatic reefs are solid three-dimensional habitats made up of densely packed oysters. The reefs form when oyster larvae attach to larger oysters at the bottom of the Bay.
Reefs provide habitat and communities for many aquatic species in the Bay, including fish and crabs. The high concentration of oysters in aquatic reefs improve water quality by filtering algae and pollutants from the water.
Open waters are beyond the shoreline and the shallows. Aquatic reefs replace underwater bay grasses, which cannot grow where the sunlight cannot penetrate deep waters. Open water provides vital habitat for pelagic fish, birds and invertebrates.
Each of these habitats are vital to the survival of the Chesapeake Bay’s many different species of wildlife. It's important to protect and restore habitats to help promote the overall health of the Bay. So do your part to save the Bay by protecting habitats near you – find out how.
Do you have a question about the Chesapeake Bay? Ask us and we might choose your question for the next Question of the Week! You can also ask us a question via Twitter by sending a reply to @chesbayprogram! Be sure to follow us there for all the latest in Bay news and events
Welcome to the latest installment of the BayBlog Question of the Week! Each week, we take a question submitted on the Chesapeake Bay Program website or a frequently asked question and answer it here for all to read.
This week’s question comes from Christina in Havre de Grace, Md., a high school mathematics teacher looking for ways to work the Bay into her lesson plans. “Since the Bay is in our backyard, I would like my students to analyze some of the statistics from the Bay. Where can I find teaching resources related to the Chesapeake Bay?”
With school about to start back up, tying the Chesapeake Bay into your lesson plans is a great way to ease students back into the swing of things. It’s likely that many of them spent some time on and around the Bay during the summer, so they will have some personal connection to the topics of your lesson plan.
Fortunately, there is a great resource right on the web for all your Bay education needs, Bay Backpack. Clicking on Teaching Resources at the top of the page will bring you to a handy search tool that will help you narrow down the hundreds of lesson plans and curriculums available on the site. You can refine your search by subject area, education level, type, alignment and keywords.
In Christina’s case, we could select “mathematics,” “high school” and “data,” which will bring up about 10 resources to use to create lesson plans. Data sets will become available for her students to analyze in their statistics class, and the data will actually have meaning to these students who live right on the Bay, as opposed to using “canned” data with no personal meaning.
If just looking for data in general, the Chesapeake Bay Program website has a significant amount of data available for download. However, it is probably easier to find data that is easily adapted to lesson plans from the Bay Backpack site.
Lesson plans aren’t the only thing Bay Backpack can provide educators. Field studies, training opportunities and funding resources are all available on the site, free to be used by educators at all levels.
Bay Backpack is a great resource for teachers looking to incorporate the Chesapeake Bay into the classroom in new and innovative ways. We often underestimate the ways we can instill values of environmental stewardship into the classroom beyond science classes, but this website helps to break down those barriers. Working awareness of the Bay into day-to-day lessons across all subject areas helps to establish an environmentally conscious mindset among students from a young age, ensuring that they will become the stewards of the Bay and our environment in the future.
Do you have a question about the Chesapeake Bay? Ask us and we might choose your question for the next Question of the Week!
Eleven innovative environmental projects throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed will reduce an estimated 1.5 million pounds of nitrogen, 51,000 pounds of phosphorus and 20,000 pounds of sediment from entering the Bay and its local waterways with $5.8 million in grants through the Innovative Nutrient and Sediment Reduction Program.
The Innovative Nutrient and Sediment Reduction Program, part of the Chesapeake Bay Stewardship Fund, provides up to $1 million to innovative and cost-effective projects that dramatically reduce or eliminate nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment pollution into local streams, creeks, rivers and the Bay.
Collectively, the 11 projects exemplify creative and effective ways to build partnerships, bridge communities, advance technology and implement innovative practices such as green infrastructure and agricultural conservation — all of which are necessary to reducing polluted runoff from cities, suburbs and farmland.
The 11 projects are:
The grants are funded by the U.S. EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Program and administered by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. Grant awardees provided an additional $10 million in matching funds.
“These projects demonstrate innovative strategies for how we can continue to live, work and play in one of the most densely populated regions of the country, while at the same time minimizing the impact on our downstream neighbors and the thousands of fish and wildlife species that call the Chesapeake Bay their home,” said Tom Kelsch, Director of Conservation Programs of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.
For more information about the Chesapeake Bay Stewardship Fund, visit www.nfwf.org/chesapeake.