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Bay Blog: Bay Barometer


Chesapeake Bay Program makes measured progress toward restoring the watershed

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.

Bay Barometer: Health and Restoration in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed (2014-2015) offers a science-based snapshot of the nation’s largest estuary.

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.

Data in the latest Bay Barometer show an increase in the number of American shad (seen here in this great blue heron’s bill) migrating into some of the region’s rivers to spawn. Image by LorraineHudgins/Shutterstock.

“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.

Learn more.


Letter from Leadership: Working together to rebuild resilience

Resilience—the ability to successfully adapt and endure against the odds—is a quality we see every year in the vast network of waters and lands that make up the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Each year, the balance between health and degradation continues to be tenuous as the interconnected parts of the ecosystem shift and change in connection with one another. Their variation shows just how dynamic and complex of a system the Bay watershed is.

Volunteers plant wetland grasses at Barren Island. Once more than 550 acres, sea level rise and erosion have reduced Barren Island to less than 120 acres. Community volunteers helped restore critical habitats for waterfowl, fish and shellfish.

The Chesapeake Bay Program’s scientific indicators, presented in our latest edition of Bay Barometer, provide a snapshot of how individual parts of this complex system respond to both ongoing challenges and our efforts to protect and repair our natural world. This consistent scientific exploration, in the face of the ever-changing natural factors, provides a basis for clear paths forward in restoration, conservation and protection. With it, Bay Program partners can better understand where and how our work supports the recovery of our lands and waters, adjusting according to need along the way.

How well the region’s landscapes and waters endure and continue to provide life-giving services to our communities is up to us. More than thirty years of Bay Program science has shown that the way we interact with our environment can significantly affect nature’s ability to adapt and recover. Where we poorly build and over-develop our towns, our local natural environments suffer; where we nurture and restore our rivers and landscapes, our communities thrive. Our actions also contribute to the impacts of climate change: rising sea levels, warming streams and more extreme weather events. Healthy waters, forests, farmlands, parks and open spaces in our communities depend on the decisions and choices we make each day.

With wisdom, caring and determination, each of us can be active participants in strengthening the resilience of our environment and continue to enjoy nature’s beauty, bounty and company.

Note: The opinions expressed above are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect U.S. EPA policy endorsement or action.

Nick DiPasquale's avatar
About Nick DiPasquale - Nick has nearly 30 years of public policy and environmental management experience in both the public and private sectors. He previously served as Deputy Secretary in the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, Director of the Environmental Management Center for the Brandywine Conservancy in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania and as Secretary of the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.


Experts consider Chesapeake Bay an ecosystem in recovery

Our latest look at Chesapeake Bay health reveals an ecosystem in recovery. While the watershed continues to struggle against development, pollution and other challenges, a handful of the environmental indicators presented in Bay Barometer—including American shad, striped bass and underwater grass abundance—have shown signs of resilience.

Released today, Bay Barometer: Health and Restoration in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed offers a science-based snapshot of conditions in the nation’s largest estuary. The data in Bay Barometer reflect the Bay’s health over the course of many years and, in some cases, decades. By tracking changes in this data over time, scientists can better understand ecological patterns and the long-term effects of our restoration work.

Norah Carlos of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation demonstrates the first half of the "kiss and twist" method of preparing a menhaden for use as crab bait during an educational program on the waters of Smith Island, Md., on Oct. 27, 2014.

According to experts with the Chesapeake Bay Program, the Bay remains impaired. Scientists have seen no significant changes in the last decade of water quality monitoring data and a sizeable drop in the abundance of blue crabs. But communities have continued to reduce the nutrient and sediment pollution that has long plagued the Bay, and some living resources have improved in the face of challenges. Underwater grass acreage has risen 24 percent, American shad have continued to return to their Potomac River spawning grounds and the relative abundance of young striped bass in both Maryland and Virginia waters has recovered from the low numbers seen in 2012.

“The Chesapeake Bay watershed is a vast and complex ecosystem that faces continued challenges,” said Bay Program Director Nick DiPasquale in a media release. “Yet in the face of these… challenges, we are witnessing signs of a system in recovery. And people have the ability to positively affect and help in the recovery process. In fact, we must do so.”

Geoff Austin, Northern Region Operations Steward for Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, walks along the shoreline of Potomac Creek in Crow's Nest Natural Area Preserve in Stafford County, Va., on Nov. 18, 2014.

Continuing to investigate the environmental indicators summarized in Bay Barometer will move us toward the ground-breaking goals of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, which guides our work to restore, conserve and protect the Bay. In Bay Barometer, we offer our data in their clearest form so you can join our experts in assessing the health of our ecosystem and the progress we are making toward restoring it. Each of the almost 18 million people who live within this watershed can help bring it back to health. To learn more, Take Action.


Bay Barometer: Chesapeake faces challenges from pollution, development

The Chesapeake Bay Program’s latest look at watershed health reflects the reality of an impaired Bay, where population growth and pollution could threaten stable blue crab, striped bass and shad populations.

Released today, Bay Barometer: Health and Restoration in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed collects and summarizes the Bay Program’s most recent data on water quality, pollution loads and other “indicators” of Bay health, from ecological markers like underwater grass abundance to measures of progress toward restoration goals.

According to the report, more than half of the watershed’s freshwater streams are in poor condition, almost three-quarters of the Bay’s tidal waters are impaired by chemical contaminants and just 29 percent of the Bay has attained water-quality standards.

But an absence of rapid improvement in Bay health is not an indication that our restoration efforts are ineffective. Instead, it is an indication that lag-times are at play. Knowing that we will have to wait before we see visible improvements in water quality gives officials hope that the work done in 2012—like the 285 miles of forest buffers planted along waterways, the 2,231 acres of wetlands established on agricultural lands or the 34 miles of streams reopened to fish passage—will lead to results in the watershed. In fact, long-term trends indicate nutrient levels in Bay tributaries are improving, with most showing lower levels of nitrogen and phosphorous.

“Bay Program partners have made significant strides in moving us ever closer to a healthy, restored Bay watershed,” said Bay Program Director Nick DiPasquale in a media release. “We will have to exercise persistence and patience as the actions we take to rebuild balance and resilience… into this complex ecosystem… show up in the data from our monitoring networks.”

Learn more.


Bay Barometer: Bay impaired, but signs of resilience abound

While the Chesapeake Bay Program’s latest look at watershed health reflects the reality of an impaired Bay, signs of the ecosystem’s resilience abound in the science-based snapshot the Program released today.

According to Bay Barometer: Spotlight on Health and Restoration in the Chesapeake Bay and its Watershed, water clarity and dissolved oxygen levels are low, a number of freshwater streams continue to be in poor condition and oyster populations remain at less than one percent of historic levels.

But even as these and other indicators of watershed health point to a stressed ecosystem, early information on how the Bay fared in 2012—from a summertime dead zone estimated to be smaller than normal to the boost in juvenile crabs entering the fishery—gives officials cause for optimism.

Recent restoration work and pollution cuts also offer signs of hope, although it will take time for such efforts to show visible improvements in water quality. The 240 miles of forest buffers that were planted alongside local waterways will stabilize shorelines, remove pollutants from runoff and provide much-needed shade to underwater habitat. The 150 miles of streams that were opened up to increase fish passage will allow migratory fish to reach their once-blocked spawning grounds. And the 15 new public access sites that were added to a list that includes over one thousand more will give watershed residents and visitors new opportunities to boat, fish, observe wildlife and connect with the Bay.

Bay Program partners also estimate that significant steps have been taken toward meeting the Bay’s “pollution diet,” as partners move 20 percent closer to their goal for reducing nitrogen, 19 percent closer to their goal for reducing phosphorous and 30 percent closer to their goal for reducing sediment.

“While we clearly have a lot of work to do, the Bay is resilient and we have reason for hope,” said Bay Program Director Nick DiPasquale. “We know this complex ecosystem will respond to restoration efforts and we expect to see encouraging results in 2012 data as it comes in over the course of the year.”

Learn more about Bay Barometer or read the full report.


2009 Bay Barometer: Bay Health Poor Overall Despite Upticks in Specific Indicators

The Chesapeake Bay Program (CBP) has released the 2009 Bay Barometer, which shows that the Bay continues to be degraded and illustrates a clear need to continue to accelerate restoration efforts across the region. The science behind the Bay Barometer indicates that the Bay remains in poor condition, receiving an overall average health score of 45 percent, with 100 percent representing a fully restored ecosystem. It also states that the CBP partnership has implemented 64 percent of the needed actions to reduce pollution, restore habitats, manage fisheries, protect watersheds and foster stewardship.

At a more detailed level, the Bay Barometer presents some slight improvements for specific health indicators such as water clarity, deep-water habitat, blue crabs and bay grasses.  While these upticks are important, they must be considered in the context of the Bay health overall.  Water quality, for example, is only at 24 percent of its goals. The Bay’s poor condition is not surprising given that it will take time for the Bay’s water quality and living resources to respond to ongoing restoration efforts. Bay Barometer also shows that much more progress is needed to reduce nonpoint source pollution from agricultural, suburban and urban runoff.

The CBP’s Bay Barometer: A Health and Restoration Assessment of the Chesapeake Bay and Watershed in 2009 is the science-based annual review of the progress of the CBP partners toward achieving Bay health goals and implementing the needed restoration measures to fully restore the Bay ecosystem. It provides overall scores for both health and restoration efforts as well as scores for individual indicators of the Bay’s condition. In addition to the 12-page Bay Barometer executive summary, a full set of data, charts, graphs and videos about each indicator can be found in our online Bay Barometer section.

Some statistics on the health of the Bay in 2009 include:

  • 12 percent of the Bay and its tidal tributaries met Clean Water Act standards for dissolved oxygen between 2007-2009, a decrease of 5 percent from 2006-2008.
  • 26 percent of tidal waters met or exceeded guidelines for water clarity, a 12 percent increase from 2008.
  • Underwater bay grasses covered 9,039 more acres of the Bay’s shallows than last year for a total of 85,899 acres, 46 percent of the Bay-wide goal.
  • The health of the Bay's bottom-dwelling species reached a record high of 56 percent of the goal, improving by approximately 15 percent Bay-wide.
  • The adult blue crab population increased to 223 million, its highest level since 1993.
  • Between 2000 and 2008, average stream health scores from over 10,000 sampling locations throughout the watershed indicated just over half were in very poor or poor condition and slightly fewer than half were in fair, good or excellent condition. (Note: In general, it can be said that a healthy watershed would have a majority of streams ranked as fair, good or excellent.)

Restoration highlights from 2009 included:

  • Bay Program partners have implemented 62 percent of needed pollution reduction efforts, a 3 percent increase from 2008. While progress was made reducing nutrients in wastewater, there was little progress toward agricultural and air pollution control goals.
  • Bay Program partners surpassed the 2010 target of enhancing 2,466 acres of oyster reefs with habitat restoration techniques such as planting spat and adding shells for oysters to grow on. Since 2007, partners have implemented reef restoration practices on a total of 2,867 acres.
  • 722 miles of forest buffers were planted along the Bay watershed’s streams and rivers, a 7 percent increase toward the goal. The bulk of these – 653 miles – were planted in Pennsylvania, achieving the state’s forest buffer restoration goal.
  • 80 percent of elementary, middle and high school students in the Bay watershed received a Meaningful Watershed Educational Experience during the 2008-2009 school year - up 7 percent.

Partner restoration highlights were included in the Bay Barometer this year, summarizing efforts by the states, the District of Columbia, the Chesapeake Bay Commission, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Bay Barometer also includes a “What You Can Do” section, giving suggestions to the watershed’s nearly 17 million residents for how they can do their part to aid in Bay restoration, such as not fertilizing lawns, picking up after pets, planting native trees and shrubs, and volunteering with local watershed groups.

Because of the influence of the Bay watershed’s 17 million residents, Bay Barometer includes a section that shows seven simple actions people can take to help restore the Bay and its local waterways:

  • Skip the lawn fertilizer
  • Pick up after your pet
  • Install rain barrels and rain gardens
  • Plant trees and shrubs
  • Drive less
  • Use a phosphate-free dishwasher detergent
  • Volunteer for a local watershed group

For more information about the data included in Bay Barometer, view a PDF of the full report or see additional details on each indicator in our Bay Barometer section.


Bay Barometer Released; Annual Assessment Shows 38 Percent of Bay Health Goals Met in 2008

Despite increased restoration efforts throughout the watershed, the Chesapeake’s health did not improve in 2008, according to the Bay Program’s annual report, Bay Barometer: A Health and Restoration Assessment of the Chesapeake Bay and Watershed in 2008.

Due to its polluted waters, degraded habitats and low populations of key fish and shellfish species, the Bay’s health averaged 38 percent. 100 percent represents a fully restored ecosystem.

Some statistics on the health of the Bay in 2008 include:

  • 16 percent of open, deep and deep channel waters in the Bay and its tributaries met dissolved oxygen standards in summer 2008. This is an increase of four points from 2007.
  • 14 percent of tidal waters met water clarity criteria in 2008, a slight increase from 2007.
  • 120 million adult blue crabs were counted in the Bay in 2008, which is 60 percent of the 200-million-crab goal. This is a substantial drop from 2007, when 143 million adult crabs were counted.
  • In 2008, there were 76,861 acres of bay grasses throughout the Bay – 42 percent of the goal and an increase of 11,984 acres from 2007.

“While there are small successes in certain parts of the ecosystem and specific geographic areas, the sobering data in this report reflect only marginal shifts from last year’s results,” said Bay Program Director Jeffrey Lape.

Bay Barometer also reviews restoration efforts that took place across the Chesapeake’s 64,000-square-mile watershed. As of 2008, Bay Program partners had put into place 61 percent of efforts needed for a restored Bay.

One restoration goal that was met in 2008 was land preservation. Bay Program partners have exceeded their goal to permanently protect from development 7.3 million acres of land – which is 20 percent of the combined watershed land area in Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia.

“Preserving more than 7 million acres of land is a tremendous success for the partners of the Chesapeake Bay Program and the citizens of the region,” said Virginia Gov. Timothy Kaine, chairman of the Chesapeake Executive Council.

Other restoration highlights from 2008 included:

  • Efforts to reduce agricultural pollution largely stayed the same as in 2007; Bay Program partners have met approximately half of the goals to control nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment from farms.
  • The score tracking reductions in phosphorus from wastewater treatment plants increased by four percent to 91 percent of goal achieved; however, the wastewater nitrogen reduction goal fell by 2 percent to 67 percent.
  • 70 percent of the oyster reef restoration goal has been achieved. In 2008, 943 acres of oyster reefs were treated.
  • 51 miles of freshwater streams were opened to migratory fish in 2008, bringing the total to 2,317 miles, or 83 percent of the goal.

One of the Bay’s greatest challenges is population growth and development, which destroys forests, wetlands and other natural areas. The impacts of human activity are offsetting efforts to clean up the Bay.

Because of the influence of the Bay watershed’s 17 million residents, Bay Barometer includes a section that shows seven simple actions people can take to help restore the Bay and its local waterways:

  • Skip the lawn fertilizer
  • Pick up after your pet
  • Install rain barrels and rain gardens
  • Plant trees and shrubs
  • Drive less
  • Use a phosphate-free dishwasher detergent
  • Volunteer for a local watershed group

For more information about the data included in Bay Barometer, view a PDF of the full report or see additional details on each indicator in our Bay Barometer section.

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