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 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.”
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.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has launched its eighth “smart buoy” in the Chesapeake Bay region as part of a network of interpretive buoys that display real-time information about environmental conditions.
The buoy was deployed in the upper Potomac River near Washington, D.C.
The network of buoys, called the Chesapeake Bay Interpretive Buoy System (CBIBS), reports real-time weather and water conditions, such as salinity, temperature and wind speed, at each buoy location. People can call a toll-free number or visit buoybay.org to access the buoy data at home or on the water.
The buoys are set up at points along the Captain John Smith Trail, which Smith traveled during his 1608 voyage of the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers. Each buoy also offers historic information about what John Smith may have encountered at that location during his exploration.
At the newly deployed upper Potomac Buoy, interpretive podcasts explain that John Smith is believed to have visited the area twice in June of 1608 when he and his crew visited the Patawomeck tribe and then continued upriver in search of the Northwest Passage to the Pacific Ocean.
In addition to the upper Potomac River buoy, interpretive buoys are located in the Susquehanna, Patapsco, Severn, lower Potomac rivers in Maryland and the Rappahannock, James and Elizabeth rivers in Virginia.
For more information about the Upper Potomac River buoy and the rest of the interpretive buoy system, visit buoybay.org.
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 and answer it here for all to read.
This week’s question comes from Helen, who just bought a waterfront house in the Chesapeake Bay watershed and wants to do her part to keep the water as clean as possible: I would like to do what I can – plant the right things, don’t plant the wrong things, etc. What can I do that entails my labor rather than money?
People are often at a loss, especially in difficult economic times, about what they can do to to help the Bay -- and not break the bank at the same time. While there are some environmental options that are costly, there are many actions you can take every day that will make a positive difference to your local waterways and the Chesapeake Bay.
Helen mentioned that she already cleans debris out of the creek with a net, but that there appears to be an oily film near the “shore.” Removing trash and debris from the ground and water is simple and something that anyone can do. By cleaning up your surroundings, you can save litter from flowing into the Bay via stormwater runoff.
As far as the “oily film” Helen mentioned, this may be caused by runoff from the land, which carries chemicals and contaminants into the water. One great way to prevent this from happening is by planting native trees, shrubs, flowers and grasses along the water’s edge. Plants added to the edge of your property act as a natural buffer to slow and absorb polluted runoff before it can flow into the creek. If you're concerned about interrupting your waterfront view, just plant low grasses and shrubs, which will have the same pollution-absorbing benefits as tall trees.
Check out last week’s Question of the Week: What are the best native plants for this area? for links and information to help you figure out the best native plants to use and where you can purchase them.
Other simple things to do on your waterfront property include picking up your pet's waste, using fertilizer and pesticides sparingly (or not at all), and using electric-powered lawn mowers and tools as opposed to gas-powered ones. Each of these are simple ways to limit the amount of pollution and nutrients that enter your creek and the Chesapeake Bay. Finally, remember to share your efforts with neighbors, family and friends so they, too, can learn what they can do to make a difference.
Visit the Bay Program's website for more things you can do to help the Bay in your backyard. Remember, you don't have to spend a lot to do a lot. Every little step you can take to do your part can make a difference!
The federal government will restore clean water in the Chesapeake Bay and its thousands of local waterways, implement conservation practices on four million acres of farmland, conserve two million acres of undeveloped land, and rebuild oysters in 20 Bay tributaries as part of a new strategy for protecting and restoring the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
The federal strategy was developed under President Obama’s Chesapeake Bay Executive Order issued in May 2009, which declared the Bay a national treasure and called on the federal government to deepen its commitment to restoring and protecting the Bay.
Through the new strategy, federal agencies will dedicate unprecedented resources, aggressively target actions where they can have the greatest impact, ensure that federal lands and facilities lead by example in environmental stewardship, and take a comprehensive, ecosystem-wide approach to restoration.
The strategy directly supports restoration activities by local governments, watershed groups, conservation districts, land owners and citizens.
Many actions in the strategy will also have economic benefits for the Chesapeake region, such as conserving working farms, expanding oyster aquaculture, supporting conservation corps programs and green jobs, and developing an environmental marketplace to buy, sell and trade pollution reduction credits.
“This strategy outlines the broadest partnerships, the strongest protections and the most accountability we've seen in decades,” said U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, who chairs the Federal Leadership Committee for the Chesapeake Bay. The Federal Leadership Committee, established by the Executive Order, includes senior representatives from the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Homeland Security, Interior and Transportation.
To increase accountability and accelerate restoration, federal agencies will meet milestones every two years for actions that make progress toward measurable environmental goals. These will support and complement two-year milestones set by the six Bay states and the District of Columbia.
Many actions to protect and restore the Bay will occur in the next few years, another step to accelerate cleanup efforts.
The strategy also outlines federal coordination with state activities, identifies goals for restoring the Bay, creates a process for reporting on progress, and explains how efforts will be adapted based on science and resources.
Read the full federal strategy at the Chesapeake Bay Executive Order website.
To restore clean water, the EPA will:
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will:
“We will help the Bay watershed’s farmers and forest owners put new conservation practices on four million acres of agricultural lands so that agriculture can build on the improvements in nutrient and sediment reductions that we have seen over the last 25 years,” said USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack.
To protect priority lands, the Department of the Interior will:
“Our strategy provides the blueprint for finally restoring the Chesapeake Bay to health – its bountiful wildlife, abundant fish and shellfish, beautiful waterways and rich wetlands,” said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar.
NOAA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, working closely with Maryland and Virginia, will launch a Bay-wide oyster restoration strategy that:
"It is critical that we apply our best science toward native oyster restoration and habitat protection, as well as toward development of sustainable aquaculture,” said Dr. Jane Lubchenco, Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and NOAA Administrator. “Ecosystem-based approaches to management will enable progress toward a healthy, sustainable Chesapeake ecosystem that will include oysters for generations to come.”
Video From the Release of the Strategy for Protecting and Restoring the Chesapeake Bay Watershed
Council on Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson
U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack
U.S. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus
U.S. Department of the Interior Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Anne Castle and U.S. Department of Commerce Principal Deputy Undersecretary for Oceans and Atmosphere Monica Medina