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Bay Blog: health


Photo Essay: Student water sampling in Lititz Run

Each spring and fall, a stream gushing from a spring in the middle of Lititz, Pa., becomes the center of attention for a group of Warwick High School chemistry students. Lititz Run starts flowing in Lititz Springs Park, mere yards from the students’ campus, where they begin a biannual field trip to measure their local water quality.

The students get a hands-on learning experience that builds their environmental literacy and also provides meaningful data to the Lititz Run Watershed Alliance (LRWA) and Warwick Township. That data helps them assess completed restoration projects and decide what they want to do in the future to improve Lititz Run, which the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection lists as an impaired stream. It takes just a few miles for Lititz Run to join the Conestoga River, but along the way it picks up pollution from urban runoff, storm sewers, wastewater discharge and agriculture.

Student Luke Mariano takes measurements with a Vernier pH probe in the headwaters of Lititz Run at Lititz Springs Park in Lititz, Pa., on May 1, 2015. Chemistry students from Warwick High School sampled Lititz Run during a biannual field trip that visited eight sites along the stream, which has been listed as impaired by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

Student Josh Cascarella, right, measures dissolved oxygen at Lititz Springs Park.

It is up to Warwick teachers Diana Griffiths and Doug Balmer to navigate the logistics of funding, paperwork, and tight curricula needed to pull off the field trips.

“We don’t have a whole lot of time or flexibility to give lots of units on applications of chemistry,” Griffiths said. “So this gives some kids a chance to see some of that chemistry put to use out in the field, even though it’s just a day.”

Warwick teacher Doug Balmer demonstrates a sampling technique for chemistry students on Lititz Run in Lititz, Pa. "I've fallen into the stream several times," Balmer said.

Chance Berger, right, looks at a water sample with fellow student Jenny Beznoska on Lititz Run.

Warwick teacher Diana Griffiths shows students Christina Shelley, right, and Kate Martin, how to measure pH.

Teacher Doug Balmer shows, from left, students Ben Hershey, David Heckel, and Josh Cascarella from Warwick High School how to conduct a colorimetric nitrate test.

Student Jenny Beznoska from Warwick High School titrates a sample to measure dissolved oxygen at Lititz Run in Lititz, Pa., on May 1, 2015.

The trips are a partnership between Warwick High School and the LRWA. Matt Kofroth, a watershed coordinator with the Lancaster County Conservation District, has been assisting with the trips almost since they began in 1997. He describes the relationship as symbiotic.

“I’m just very thankful that they continue to be active partners in this, because you see very few communities and watershed groups working together like that,” Kofroth said.

He said it is hard to tease out the effects of restoration, an upgrade to Lititz Wastewater Treatment Plant, tree plantings and public education, but their cumulative positive impact is not surprising.

“It might seem early, but there is a slight decrease in the nutrients [in Lititz Run] over time,” Kofroth said.

Teacher Doug Balmer attempts to remove a piece of trash from Lititz Run.

A night heron perches on a rock in Lititz Run.

From left, students Kate Martin, Kyla McClune, Christina Shelley, Josh Miller, Mitchel Hess, Luke Mariano, and Kelly Hossler measure dissolved oxygen with teacher Diana Griffiths.

From left, Kelly Hossler, Kate Martin, Christina Shelley, Josh Cascarella, and Destiny Butler carry sampling equipment to a site on Lititz Run in Lititz, Pa., on May 1, 2015. "The bus got stuck one year," said Doug Balmer, who leads the trip with fellow teacher Diana Griffiths. The teachers also cited a flat tire, dead battery, faulty brakes and other mishaps that have occurred on past field trips.

Matt Kofroth, a watershed coordinator with Lancaster County Conservation District, samples macroinvertebrates from Lititz Run on a farm in Leola, Pa., with students Jenny Beznoska, left, and Chance Berger.

Watershed coordinator Matt Kofroth holds a northern dusky salamander collected along with macroinvertebrates from Lititz Run on a farm in Leola, Pa.

Watershed coordinator Matt Kofroth stirs up stream sediment while student Jenny Beznoska samples macroinvertebrates from Lititz Run on a farm in Leola, Pa.

Watershed coordinator Matt Kofroth holds a sample of macroinvertebrates collected from Lititz Run on a farm in Leola, Pa.

Student Chance Berger holds a clam specimen collected from Lititz Run on a farm in Manheim Township, Pa.

Student Luke Mariano measures dissolved oxygen on Lititz Run in Manheim Township, Pa.

Student Connor Pierce carries boxes of Vernier probes back to the schoolbus after sampling finished at a farm in Manheim Township, Pa., the last site of the day along Lititz Run.

Another piece of evidence for the stream’s recovery is the return of brown trout, which need cold, oxygenated waters to reproduce. Kofroth likens them to a canary in a coal mine.

And for the students, especially those who may have never seen a freshwater macroinvertebrate before, the opportunity to learn outside is a memorable one.

“I’ve had one parent contact me one time and say this is the best field trip their child has ever been on, ever, in their whole school experience. Now I’m not saying that is true for every kid, but for that kid it was just eye opening,” Griffiths said.

“I think just the fact that it’s literally in their town, in their backyard, makes a difference.”

To view more photos, visit the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Flickr page.

Images, captions and text by Will Parson


Assessment explores impact of land development on Chesapeake Bay

Researchers from the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS) surveyed three rivers in the Chesapeake Bay region to examine how variations in land use and development impact the health of the Bay, finding that water quality and aquatic animal health could help gauge the overall well-being of coastal regions.

Homes clustered along water

The NCCOS assessment, conducted from 2007 to 2009, explored linkages between land use, water quality, and aquatic animal health along the Corsica, Magothy, and Rhode Rivers. Researchers measured water quality for dissolved oxygen, nutrient concentrations and water clarity, and based aquatic animal health on the growth, disease rates and diversity of fish and shellfish stocks.

As the population of the Chesapeake Bay region grows from 17 million to a predicted 20 million residents by 2030, an increasing number of people will rely on the Bay for their food, recreation and livelihoods. The assessment results suggest that environmental pressure from development could both weaken the capacity of the Bay to provide these services and counteract the benefits of current restoration efforts.

“Luckily, ecosystems tend to be resilient; many are able to maintain a state of relatively strong health when faced with environmental stress,” the report states. However, it also clarifies that if the health of coastal waters is pushed beyond a point of recovery, it could affect the ability of the Bay to cope with “environmental stress”—including increased rainfall related to climate change.

“The science challenge, going forward, is in identifying and communicating where systems fall relative to some threshold or tipping point,” the report states. Results of the assessment can be used to inform “smart development plans” that can balance the effects of human activities with better support of Chesapeake Bay’s resiliency.

Learn more.


Forests clean our air, save our lives

The nation’s forests save more than 850 lives each year, according to a new report from the U.S. Forest Service.

Image courtesy craigcloutier/Flickr

In a study that will be published in the October issue of Environmental Pollution, scientists with the U.S. Forest Service have determined the magnitude and economic value of the effects trees have on air quality and human health. While we have long known that trees remove pollutants from the air, this study shows that in 2010, trees in the conterminous United States removed 17.4 million tons of pollution, with a human health value of $6.8 billion.

In addition to saving more than 850 lives, these trees reduced more than 670,000 incidences of acute respiratory symptoms and 430,000 incidences of asthma exacerbation. Trees also saved 200,000 lost days of school.

Image courtesy pavlinajane/Flickr

A forest’s pollution removal rates can be affected by pollution concentrations, tree cover, weather conditions, length of growing season and other environmental stressors. In general, scientists found that while trees’ pollution removal was greater in rural areas, the economic value of this pollution removal was greater in urban areas. In other words, because of their proximity to people, trees in urban areas have a greater impact on human health.

“More than 80 percent of Americans live in urban areas containing over 100 million acres of trees and forests,” said Michael T. Rains, director of the Forest Service’s Northern Research Station in a media release. “This research clearly illustrates that America’s urban forests are critical capital investments [that are] helping produce clean air and water [and] reduce energy costs and making cities more livable. Simply put, our urban forests improve people’s lives.”

The Chesapeake Bay Program has set a goal to expand urban tree canopy by 2,400 acres by 2025. Indeed, trees can improve air quality, water quality and habitat in ways not discussed in this study. Trees near buildings, for instance, lower energy use. Trees along rivers and streams reduce the amount of nutrients entering local waterways. And trees provide food, shelter, nesting sites and safe migration paths for critters in the water and on land.

“Urban tree planting is part of the Watershed Improvement Plan for six Bay jurisdictions,” said U.S. Forest Service Chesapeake Liaison Sally Claggett. “To reach water quality goals, these jurisdictions are targeting nearly 20,000 acres of new tree canopy by 2025—so the goal of 2,400 acres may be reached early. Partners are planning an Urban Forestry Summit in fall 2014 to help make that happen.”

Learn more.


Five facts about Vibrio

During summer months, Chesapeake Bay waters become home to a range of bacteria. One of the most talked-about bacteria is Vibrio, which occurs naturally in warm estuarine waters and can infect those who eat contaminated shellfish or swim with open wounds in contaminated waters. But illness can be avoided. Learn about the bacteria—and how to avoid infection—with this list of five Vibrio facts.

Image courtesy CDC/Wikimedia Commons

1. Vibrio is a naturally occurring bacteria. There are more than 80 species of Vibrio, which occur naturally in brackish and saltwater. Not all species can infect humans, but two strains that can have raised concern in the Bay watershed: Vibrio vulnificus and Vibrio parahaemolyticus. The bacteria are carried on the shells and in the bodies of microscopic animals called copepods.

2. The presence of Vibrio in surface waters is affected by water temperature, salinity and chlorophyll. Because Vibrio prefers warm waters, it is not found in the Bay during winter months. Instead, it is common in the summer and early fall. When water temperatures are warm, algae blooms form, fed by nutrients in the water. These blooms feed the copepods that carry the Vibrio bacteria. When the copepods die, Vibrio bacteria are shed into the water. As climate change increases the temperature of the Bay, both algae blooms and Vibrio could persist later in the season.

3. Vibrio infections can occur in people who eat raw or undercooked shellfish or who swim with open wounds or punctures in contaminated waters. While infections are rare, they do take place and can be particularly dangerous for people with compromised immune systems. The ingestion of Vibrio can cause vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain, and in some cases can infect the bloodstream. If an open wound or puncture comes into contact with the bacteria, the area around the wound can experience swelling, redness, pain, blistering and ulceration of the skin.

4. Infection can be avoided. To avoid Vibrio infection, follow these tips:

  • Don’t eat raw or undercooked shellfish (especially during warm months).
  • Avoid contact with Bay waters.
  • When water contact cannot be avoided, cover wounds with waterproof bandages and wear water shoes to avoid cuts and scrapes.
  • If cuts, scrapes or other wounds occur while in the water, wash immediately with clean water and soap.
  • Shower after swimming in natural waters and wash hands before handling food.

5. Vibrio symptoms can start 12 to 72 hours after exposure. If you think you’ve been infected with Vibrio, seek medical attention. Make sure to let your doctor know that you have eaten raw or undercooked shellfish or crabs or have come into contact with brackish or saltwater.


Catherine Krikstan's avatar
About Catherine Krikstan - Catherine Krikstan is a web writer at the Chesapeake Bay Program. She began writing about the watershed as a reporter in Annapolis, Md., where she covered algae blooms and climate change and interviewed hog farmers and watermen. She lives in Washington, D.C.


EPA’s Clean Power Plan would cut carbon emissions, combat climate change

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its proposed Clean Power Plan this week, which EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy called a “vital piece” of President Obama’s plan to cut carbon pollution and slow the effects of climate change.

Image courtesy Rennett Stowe/Flickr

The Clean Power Plan aims to lower carbon emissions from the power sector to 30 percent below 2005 levels. According to the EPA, this would also cut emissions of particle pollution, nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide more than 25 percent, lowering asthma attacks and medical bills and working toward justice for the low-income communities that are hardest hit by air pollution.

Fossil-fueled power plants are the largest source of carbon pollution in the United States, accounting for one-third of our greenhouse gas emissions. Left unchecked, carbon pollution leads to rising temperatures and sea levels and changes in weather patterns, ecosystems and habitats. It also worsens smog, which affects the heart and lung health of children, older adults and people living in poverty.

“This is about protecting our health and our homes,” McCarthy said in a speech celebrating the plan’s release.

Image courtesy francescopratese/Flickr

The plan would give states the freedom to chart their own course toward their own goals. “There is no one-size-fits-all solution,” McCarthy said. Instead, states can “mix and match” methods of electricity production—whether it is a low-carbon or “no” carbon source like nuclear, wind or solar energy—and pollution control policies to ensure a “smooth transition to cleaner power.”

Comments on the proposal will be accepted for 120 days after its publication in the Federal Register. The EPA will host public hearings on the plan in Denver, Atlanta, the District of Columbia and Pittsburgh during the week of July 28, and will finalize the plan next June.

Learn more.


Chesapeake Bay health receives D+ on 2011 report card

An unusual sequence of weather events, including a wet spring, a hot, dry summer, and two tropical storms, caused the Chesapeake Bay’s health to decline in 2011, according to the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

report card scores

(Image courtesy Chesapeake EcoCheck)

Scientists gave the Bay a D+ on the latest Chesapeake Bay Report Card, an annual assessment of the health of the Bay and its tidal rivers. The score of 38 percent was the second lowest since assessments began in 1986 and down from a C- in 2010.

Only two areas – the lower western shore and the Patapsco and Back rivers – improved last year. The rest of the Bay’s segments remained the same or got worse. Scientists recorded lower scores in the Patuxent River, Rappahannock River, James River, Tangier Sound, and the upper and middle Bay.

"The spring rains and hot, dry summer followed by Tropical Storm Lee and Hurricane Lee led to poor health throughout Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries," said Dr. Bill Dennison of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. "While we have been making considerable progress in various restoration activities, these results indicate we still need to do much more to reduce the input of nutrients and sediments from stormwater runoff into the Bay."

The Bay’s health is largely affected by weather conditions. Rainfall carries pollution from farms, cities and suburbs to storm drains, streams and eventually the Bay. Even as the government, communities and citizens work to reduce pollution, an increase in stormwater runoff can mask the effects of these improvements.

Wet weather last spring washed more nutrient pollution into the water, fueling the growth of algae blooms that blocked sunlight from reaching bay grasses. Hot, dry weather allowed these algae blooms to persist through summer, leading to low-oxygen “dead zones” in the Bay’s bottom waters. In late summer, the Bay was slammed by the effects of Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee, both of which worsened water clarity.

"The report card clearly indicates that the Chesapeake Bay watershed is a dynamic ecosystem subject to severe weather events," said Bay Program Director Nick DiPasquale. “The silver lining is that the Hopkins-UMCES study of 60 years of water quality data concluded that a decrease in the frequency and severity of dead zones in the Bay is the direct result of implementing measures to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus pollution. We know what works; we just need to do more of it."

The Chesapeake Bay Report Card, produced by the EcoCheck partnership, offers a timely and geographically detailed assessment of the health of the Bay’s water quality and aquatic life. Visit EcoCheck’s website for more information about the report card, including region-specific data and downloadable graphics.


Anacostia River receives failing grade on latest health report card

Despite improvements in some key areas, the Anacostia River’s health is still in very poor condition, according to a new report card released by the Anacostia Watershed Society.

Anacostia River

(Image courtesy Mr. T in DC/Flickr)

Stormwater runoff is the largest source of pollution to the Anacostia River, which flows to the Potomac River, one of the Chesapeake Bay’s largest tributaries. Runoff carries dirt, oil, trash, fertilizer and other pollutants from the land into the Anacostia, where they smother underwater life and make the river unsafe for fishing and swimming.

The Anacostia River report card uses data on four water quality indicators – dissolved oxygen, water clarity, fecal bacteria and chlorophyll a (algae) – to determine the river’s health. Although this year’s report card showed improvements in fecal bacteria levels, the river’s water clarity is still extremely poor due to continued sediment runoff.

New legislation just passed in Maryland to enact a stormwater fee in the state’s largest counties, combined with funding from a similar District of Columbia fee, will help implement infrastructure repairs that reduce polluted runoff to the Anacostia and other waterways.

Visit the Anacostia Watershed Society’s website for more information about the river’s health and what you can do to help restore it.


What effect does heavy rainfall have on the Bay?

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 is all about the wet weather we’ve had in the region lately: “What effect does heavy rainfall have on the Bay?”

The amount of rainfall the Chesapeake Bay region receives affects the amount of water that flows into the Bay from its rivers. This is called river flow. When we get more rain, it increases the amount of nutrient and sediment pollution that gets into local streams and rivers, and eventually the Bay.

When it rains, stormwater runs off lawns, farms, streets and parking lots, picking up pollution and carrying it into the nearest storm drain or waterway. A lot of rain can also erode stream banks, which causes more sediment to make its way to the Bay. Excess nutrients and sediments are harmful because they block sunlight from reaching bay grasses. Excess nutrients also fuel the growth of algae blooms that can lead to low oxygen levels.

But heavy rainfall can also carry with it much more visible signs of pollution: namely, trash.

The Baltimore Sun’s B’More Green Blog posted some compelling photos this morning, taken at the Inner Harbor in Baltimore by the National Aquarium. It seems that not only did all the rain likely carry a lot of nutrients and sediment into the Bay, it also "trashed" the harbor.

The EPA has officially dubbed Baltimore’s Inner Harbor as “impaired” by trash. The Anacostia River watershed in Washington, D.C., has a similar, if not more severe, issue. The Anacostia recently became the first interstate river to have a Clean Water Act “trash pollution diet” imposed on it.

If there's one good thing about all this rain, it's that seeing all the trash it carries into our local waterways reminds us to try and minimize the trash we use in our day-to-day routines. After all, do you want to be swimming with a bunch of old coffee cups -- or eating seafood that has been doing the same?

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.


Will the Gulf of Mexico oil spill affect the Chesapeake Bay?

We've received a lot of questions lately about the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and if it will affect the Chesapeake Bay. The general scientific consensus right now is that it is unlikely that oil from the Gulf will reach the Chesapeake Bay, but experts continue to monitor the situation to stay ahead of any changes in the oil's projected path.

A few Bay Program partners have posted information about the oil spill in relation to the Chesapeake Bay:

  • The Maryland Department of the Environment has set up a Gulf Oil Spill Emergency Response page with detailed information about Maryland's monitoring efforts and cleanup response capabilities.
  • The Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) has an excellent Gulf Spill FAQ page that answers questions such as "Will Gulf oil reach Virginia?" and "How might any Gulf oil impact Virginia?"
  • Old Dominion University Oceanography Professor Larry Atkinson has created a page about the oil spill that focuses on potential effects to the East Coast.

Additionally, scientists and experts from many Bay Program partners are lending their time and expertise to the response effort in the Gulf region. Some examples include:

Here's a sampling of some recent news articles and blog entries about the oil spill and the Bay:

For more information about the Gulf oil spill, visit the following websites:

We'll update this blog entry with any additional information about the Gulf oil spill and its potential effect on the Bay.

Keywords: Pollution, health

Chesapeake Bay Gets "C" on Latest Annual Report Card

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.

Keywords: health, report card

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 Receives a C-Minus on Latest Health Report Card

For the second year in a row, the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES) has given the Bay a C-minus on its annual Chesapeake Bay Health Report Card.

The UMCES report card is the second major assessment of the Chesapeake’s health this year, following the Bay Program’s Bay Barometer, which gave the Bay a score of 38 out of 100. Report cards have also been issued for individual Bay tributaries, including the Magothy, South, Severn and Patuxent rivers.

The C-minus grade for a second year in a row shows that the Bay’s poor conditions have not significantly changed from 2007. However, scientists are intrigued by new long-term trends showing that improving areas continue to get better while degrading areas continue to get worse.

“These diverging positive and negative trajectories in some of the Bay’s key areas show there are important ecological feedbacks that come into play once restoration efforts reach a certain level,” said UMCES Researcher and Project Leader Dr. Bill Dennison.

For example, restoration efforts on the James River in Virginia and the tributaries of Maryland’s upper western shore (including the Bush and Gunpowder rivers) appear to be having a positive influence, as water quality and the health of underwater life continue to improve. In other areas, such as Maryland’s lower western shore tributaries (including the Magothy, Severn and South rivers), nutrient and sediment pollution continue to hinder progress to improve local ecosystem health, according to Dennison.

While the Bay’s overall health earned a C-minus, the health of the 15 “reporting regions” -- individual sections of the Bay and its rivers -- assessed in the report card ranged from a B-minus for the tributaries of the upper western shore of Maryland to an F for the lower western shore tributaries.

The grades for the rest of the reporting regions are:

  •     D-minus for the Back and Patapsco rivers and the Patuxent River.
  • D for the upper Eastern Shore tributaries, the Choptank River and the York River.
  • D-plus for the middle Bay.
  • C-minus for the Potomac River, the Rappahannock River, Tangier Sound and lower Eastern Shore tributaries, and the lower Bay.
  • C for the James River.
  • C-plus for the upper Bay.

Visit the Chesapeake EcoCheck website for more information about the 2008 Chesapeake Bay Health Report Card.

Keywords: health, report card

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.


Chesapeake Bay Assessment Shows Ecosystem Health Still Poor

The Bay Program has released its Chesapeake Bay 2007 Health and Restoration Assessment, a four-part snapshot of health conditions and restoration efforts in the Bay and its watershed. The assessment indicates that the overall health of the Bay remained degraded in 2007. Despite the extensive actions of Bay partners to combat factors slowing restoration progress, the Bay Program is still far short of most restoration goals.

Of the key indicators of Bay health, the assessment shows that:

  • Just 12 percent of the Bay and its tidal tributaries met dissolved oxygen standards during the summer.
  • Bay grasses (SAV) increased to nearly 65,000 acres, 35 percent of the restoration goal; however, grasses have not yet recovered to the 2002 high of 90,000 acres.
  • Blue crab abundance continued to be low -- at 78 percent of the 200 million interim target, the stock is not rebuilding as had been anticipated.
  • Striped bass populations remained high but face uncertain health.
  • Native oyster populations continue to be at depressed levels.

The reasons for the continued poor health of the Bay are described in Chapter Two: Factors Impacting Bay and Watershed Health. The Chesapeake is affected by multiple factors -- ranging from population growth to agricultural runoff to climate variability -- that challenge the ecosystem's recovery.

If current development trends continue:

  • An additional 250,000 acres of watershed land will become impervious between 2000 and 2010.
  • 9.5 million more acres of forests will be threatened by development by 2030.

Chapter Three: Restoration Efforts highlights Bay Program partners' progress toward reducing pollution, restoring habitats, managing fisheries, protecting watersheds and fostering stewardship.

  • The partners have achieved approximately one-half of goals to control nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment from agricultural lands, as well as 69 percent of nitrogen and 87 percent of phosphorus reduction goals for wastewater.
  • However, pollution from urban and suburban lands and septic systems continues to grow due to rapid population growth and related development.

Bay Program partners continued to make progress toward goals to open fish passage, restore forest buffers and preserve land in 2007.

  • The partners have re-opened 2,266 miles of freshwater stream habitat to migratory fish and planted 5,722 miles of forested buffers.
  • Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia have permanently preserved 6.88 million acres of land -- nearly completing the 2010 goal to preserve 20 percent of their combined land within the Chesapeake watershed.

At the December 2007 Chesapeake Executive Council meeting, each Bay jurisdiction chose to “champion” issues vital to restore their streams, rivers and Bay waters. “Champion” issues include enhancing agricultural conservation practices, engaging local governments in upstream communities and “greening” urban areas through improved stormwater controls. The outcomes of these projects and programs are intended to be models for restoration that can be used in other areas of the watershed.

New to the assessment this year is a chapter on the health of the Bay watershed's extensive network of freshwater streams and rivers. The presence and diversity of snails, mussels, insects and other freshwater benthic macroinvertebrate communities are good indicators of stream health because of their limited mobility and known responses to environmental stressors. As a result, these communities are often used as indicators of the general health of freshwater streams and rivers.

Separately, the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science(UMCES) has released its 2007 Chesapeake Bay Health Report Card, a geographically based assessment of the health of the Bay examining conditions in 2007. The UMCES Report Card shows that 2007 ecological conditions in the Bay were slightly better than the previous year, but far below what is needed for a healthy Bay.

Keywords: health, report card

2006 Bay Health & Restoration Assessment Details Bay's Degraded Water Quality, Restoration Efforts Throughout Watershed

The Chesapeake Bay 2006 Health and Restoration Assessment reports show that the Bay's overall health remains degraded, despite significant advances in restoration efforts by Bay Program partners through newly focused programs, legislation and/or funding.

“While much has been accomplished, there is still much work left to be done,” said Jeff Lape , director of the Bay Program Office. “Restoring the Chesapeake Bay cannot be done with government support alone. It is up to every citizen living in the Bay watershed to become a steward of our nation's largest and most cherished estuary.”

The annual Health and Restoration Assessment reports give watershed residents a clear and concise synopsis of Bay health and on-the-ground restoration efforts in key areas including:

  • Water quality
  • Habitat
  • Fisheries
  • Watershed protection
  • Fostering Chesapeake Stewardship

2006 Health Assessment Findings

Water Quality

  • To date, less than one-third of water quality goals have been met.
  • Dissolved oxygen showed significant improvement from 2005. Even though it was one of the best years on record, levels only reached 37 percent of the goal.
  • Chlorophyll a, a measure of algae, showed slight improvement from last year.
  • Mid-channel water clarity declined slightly.
  • Fifty-three percent of monitored tidal rivers had chemical contaminants in fish tissue high enough to warrant fish consumption advisories in those areas.


  • The Bay's habitats and lower food webs are at about one-third of desired levels.
  • Improvement in bottom (benthic) habitat was stagnant in 2006. Just 41 percent of the Bay's floor was considered healthy—the same percentage as in 2005.
  • Bay-wide acreage of underwater grasses decreased by 25 percent in 2006 to the lowest total acreage figure since 1989. Bay grasses covered only 59,090 acres—or about 32 percent of the 185,000-acre restoration goal.


  • Blue crab levels reached 57 percent of the restoration goal.
  • Oyster populations are at 9 percent of the restoration goal.
  • Populations of American shad are at just 3 percent of the restoration goal.
  • Striped bass (rockfish) numbers are high, but scientists are particularly concerned with the high prevalence of disease (mycobacteriosis). The next assessment of striped bass will take place later this year.

Urban/Suburban Development

  • With the watershed's human population now at over 16 million and growing by more than 170,000 residents annually, urban and suburban lands have contributed significantly to the Bay's degraded condition. It is estimated that increases in pollution due to development have surpassed the gains achieved to date from improved landscape design and stormwater management practices. The rapid rate of population growth and related residential and commercial development means that this is the only pollution sector in the Bay watershed that is still growing; thus, “progress” is negative.

2006 Restoration Assessment Findings

Nutrient Reduction

  • About half of the pollution reduction efforts needed to achieve nutrient goals have been undertaken.
  • Nitrogen discharges from wastewater treatment plants are at 72 percent of the reduction goal.
  • Phosphorous discharges from wastewater treatment plants have reached 87 percent of reduction goals.
  • However, pollution control efforts need to be accelerated in the agricultural sector. Only 45 percent of the goal for reducing nitrogen from agriculture has been reached, while 49 percent of the phosphorus reduction goal has been achieved.

Watershed Protection

  • Watershed protection efforts are slightly more than two-thirds of the way toward goals.
  • Seventy-six percent of the goal to reopen upstream blockages to migratory fish has been achieved. Since 1990, 2,144 miles have been reopened.
  • Watershed land preservation efforts have resulted in 99 percent achievement of restoration goals. A total of 6.83 million acres of land has been permanently preserved.
  • The forest buffer restoration goal of 2,010 miles was reached by Bay Program partners well ahead of schedule. In 2003 the target was raised to 10,000 miles. As of 2006, 53 percent of the new goal had been achieved.

Other Findings

  • Habitat restoration efforts are collectively less than halfway toward Program goals.
  • A newly developed set of indicators, Fostering Chesapeake Stewardship, has reached two-thirds of its goals.

Read or download the full report.


Significant Underwater Bay Grass Acreage Lost in 2006

Bay-wide acreage of underwater bay grasses (SAV) decreased by 25 percent in 2006, dropping to 59,090 acres from 78,263 acres in 2005, according to data from scientists with the Bay Program. This loss marks the first setback for SAV after two consecutive years of moderate gains and the lowest total SAV acreage figure since 1989.

Bay grass acreage is broken down into three zones: Upper, middle and lower Bay.

  • Grasses in the upper Bay fell 20 percent to 15,510 acres.
  • Middle Bay grasses diminished by 23 percent to 30,659 acres.
  • SAV in the lower Bay covered 12,922 acres, a loss of 33 percent.

Scientists are attributing acreage declines in the upper and middle Bay to:

  • The very dry spring in 2006, which caused more saline water to penetrate into many of the Bay's upper reaches. The higher salinity levels are believed to have increased stress on and loss of SAV species used to fresher water.
  • An abnormally large rain event in early June that “muddied” the upper and middle Bay for about a month. The massive amount of sediment that followed this event caused further stress on bay grasses and likely contributed to additional acreage losses.

The lower Bay is still experiencing the effects of a large eelgrass dieback that took place in late summer 2005 after a period of record high temperatures. Many of the areas affected by the dieback in 2005 did not produce grass at all in 2006, while the remaining SAV beds observed were very thin.

SAV losses in the lower Bay could be particularly hard on blue crabs, which use grass beds as nursery areas where they hide from predators until they grow large enough to migrate up the Bay and its tributaries. This additional habitat loss, among other factors, could contribute to the extended period of low blue crab abundance currently observed in the Bay.

Although SAV acreage decreased bay-wide, there were some bright spots in bay grass restoration in 2006.

Large, dense beds on the Susquehanna Flats area remained healthy and vibrant despite the deluge of sediment following the June rain event.

Widgeon grass spread throughout the lower Rappahannock River.

Hydrilla continued to do well in the Mattaponi, Pamunkey, Chickahominy and upper James rivers.

SAV beds remained very dense in the tidal freshwater areas of the Potomac from Broad Creek down to Aquia Creek.

Researchers on the St. Mary's River also witnessed healthy SAV populations.

SAV is critical to the Bay's ecosystem because the grasses provide habitat for fish and shellfish, help reduce shoreline erosion, absorb excess nutrients and trap sediment. SAV once covered an estimated 200,000 acres along the shallows and shorelines of the Bay.

Bay grasses can only grow if water is clear enough for sunlight to reach its underwater leaves. Since water clarity is reduced by excess nutrients and sediment from the land, the Bay Program looks at annual bay-wide SAV survey results as an indication of the Bay's response to pollution control efforts. Based on long-term trends, significant progress is still needed before the Bay is clean enough for SAV to recover to historic levels.

The health and density of bay grasses is just one indicator of the overall health of the Bay. The Bay Program's 2006 Chesapeake Bay Health and Restoration Assessment, which provides the most current scientific data and tracks restoration progress, is currently in production and will be made public on April 18.

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