Countless creeks, streams and rivers flow into the Chesapeake Bay. For decades, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has measured the flow of the region’s rivers in order to forecast floods, spot low-flow conditions and estimate the amount of pollution running from the land into the water. While annual river flow has remained within its normal range for much of the last decade, our increasingly variable climate has fostered increasingly variable river flow, which has the potential to affect habitats and pollution levels in the Bay.
While river flow is tracked at 300 monitoring stations across the watershed, it is the data that are collected at stations along its three biggest rivers—the Susquehanna, the Potomac and the James—that are used to calculate total flow into the Bay. Data collected at these monitoring stations show that, on average, 51 billion gallons of water flow into the Bay each day.
Annual river flow that falls between 44 and 58 billion gallons per day is considered normal. But the last 15 years have seen extreme flow variability, which can affect the surrounding ecosystem.
While low river flow can dry up stream beds and threaten fish, high river flow has garnered much attention in the region.Excess river flow can damage stream banks, trigger sewage overflows and push pollutants—including nutrients, sediment and toxic contaminants picked up from farm fields, backyards, parking lots and roads—into the Bay. It can also lower salinity levels in the Bay itself, which has a direct impact on underwater grasses, fish and shellfish. Often, high river flow is linked to heavy precipitation, which has become a noted impact of our changing climate.
In 2014, the U.S. Global Change Research Program reported in its National Climate Assessment that heavy downpours have increased across the nation. The Northeast, in particular, has seen a 71 percent rise in the amount of precipitation that falls during heavy downpours: a higher jump than any other region in the United States. In our work to protect the nation’s largest estuary, the Chesapeake Bay Program is taking these and other climate impacts into account.
Through the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement’s climate resiliency goal, our partners have committed to monitoring climate trends and the effectiveness of our restoration policies, programs and projects under these changing conditions. Our partners have also committed to adjusting our work as needed in order to enhance the resiliency of the watershed against climate change. Because in building the resiliency of the Bay, we can increase the likelihood that its living resources, habitats, public infrastructure and communities will withstand the changes—to temperature, sea level and even river flow—that may come their way.
As part of the 2014 Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, Chesapeake Bay Program partners committed to a goal of increasing diversity in conservation and restoration activities. Since then, certain diversity-related terms and phrases have been used more frequently. But it’s important to use these words and phrases in the proper context. Defining the meaning of words like “diversity” as they apply to an organization and integrating these principles into restoration work is an invaluable part of achieving diversity goals that last.
In our work, the Bay Program has defined diversity as follows: “Expanding the diversity of the workforce and participants in restoration and conservation activities means to include a wide range of people of all races, income levels, faiths, genders, ages, sexual orientations and disabilities, along with other diverse groups. For this effort to be successful it will require us to honor the culture, history and social concerns of local populations and communities.” Because diversity is such a broad term, it can refer to a multitude of things; when talking about diversity, it’s important to be as intentional and specific as possible about the kind of diversity you’re referring to and why.
Diversity implies balance and harmony, while recognizing the individual differences that bring about that harmony. Our goal is for those who are participating in restoration and conservation efforts to better reflect the kind of diversity that exists in our watershed. But to diversify successfully, we must also consider the meaning of terms like inclusion, cultural competency and environmental justice, and our goals related to these terms should be place-based.
In what ways can your organization include diversity and inclusion into your mission? Who is your target audience, and how can you build a relationship to achieve your mutual goals? How can your organization play a role in achieving environmental justice, and how can you include diversity within your organizational structure? Examine your organization from the inside out, beginning with your mission statement and your board of directors. Does your board represent the diverse perspectives and constituencies of the communities you serve?
When addressing stewardship and engagement opportunities, consider how you can diversify programs and projects to reach a broader audience. The public is looking for more targeted restoration engagement with traditionally underserved and underrepresented populations. And as the Bay Program ventures forward in its diversity initiative, the proper communication of diversity-related terms—and the application of these concepts in a way that responds to the needs of the public—will be critical to success.
One way to get your voice heard right now is by providing feedback on the Chesapeake Bay Program's draft two-year workplans—both for diversity and for other watershed goals—on our Management Strategies & Work Plans Dashboard, now through March 7.
Written by Shanita Brown, Diversity Communications and Outreach Coordinator at the Chesapeake Bay Program
Our latest look at Chesapeake Bay health reveals early evidence of our progress toward the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement. While the restoration of some habitats remains slow, experts report positive observations of pollution loads, underwater grass abundance and some fish and shellfish populations.
Released today, Bay Barometer: Health and Restoration in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed (2014-2015) offers a science-based snapshot of the nation’s largest estuary. The data and information it contains help us gauge the success of our work and provide the basis for our path forward in protecting the Bay.
Our most recent assessments of water quality show encouraging nutrient and sediment loads that are below the long-term average and a welcome increase in the attainment of clean water standards. Data related to living resources show an increase in the acres of underwater grasses available to fish and shellfish and in the stream miles open to the movements of migratory fish. Data also show an increase in populations of young striped bass, adult female blue crabs and migrating American shad.
“This year’s Bay Barometer shows many of our indicators are moving in the right direction,” said Chesapeake Bay Program Director Nick DiPasquale in a media release. “We are seeing positive results from our efforts to restore balance to an important ecosystem that has suffered decades of damage. We must sustain and step up our efforts if we are going to succeed in the long run in dealing with climate change and other challenges.”
Because of the connections between pollution, water quality, living resources and wildlife habitat, it will take a steady effort from the entire Chesapeake Bay Program partnership to restore watershed health. Changes in one part of the Bay ecosystem can impact countless others. The restoration of coastal wetlands can mean resilience against some impacts of climate change; improvements in water quality can mean healthier fish and shellfish; and engaging the community in environmental protection can mean a rise in the local stewardship of land, rivers and streams.
The Chesapeake Bay Program is seeking public input on a collection of short-term plans aimed toward achieving the goals and outcomes of the landmark Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement. These twenty-eight draft work plans outline specific actions our partners intend to take over the next two years toward protecting and restoring the Bay, its rivers and streams and the surrounding lands.
Each two-year work plan addresses one or more of the Watershed Agreement’s thirty-one interconnected outcomes and outlines short-term actions critical to our work maintaining the health of local waters, sustaining abundant fish and wildlife populations, restoring vital habitats, fostering engaged and diverse communities through increased public access and education, conserving farmland and forests, and improving the climate resiliency of the region.
In June 2014, representatives from the six watershed states, the District of Columbia, the Chesapeake Bay Commission and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on behalf of the federal government signed the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement. In July 2015, the Chesapeake Executive Council announced the release of a set of twenty-five management strategies outlining our plans for implementation, monitoring and assessing progress toward the goals of that accord. The draft two-year work plans released today represent the next step in our continued work toward a healthy and vibrant Chesapeake Bay watershed.
Drafts of the work plans are available online. The Bay Program welcomes input on these drafts between January 22 and March 7, 2016. Interested parties can offer input by completing an online form, sending an email to the Bay Program or mailing a letter to the Bay Program office.