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Bay Blog: water clarity

Apr
21
2014

Chesapeake Bay’s underwater grass abundance rises 24 percent in 2013

Underwater grass abundance in the Chesapeake Bay increased 24 percent between 2012 and 2013, reversing the downward trend of the last three years.

Because underwater grasses are sensitive to pollution but quick to respond to water quality improvements, their abundance is a good indicator of Bay health. Aerial surveys flown from last spring to last fall showed an almost 12,000-acre increase in grass abundance across the Bay, which scientists attribute to the rapid expansion of widgeon grass in the saltier waters of the mid-Bay and the modest recovery of eelgrass in shallow waters where the species experienced a “dieback” after the hot summers of 2005 and 2010. Scientists also observed an increase in the acreage of the Susquehanna Flats.

“The mid-Bay has seen a big rise in widgeon grass,” said Robert J. Orth, Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) professor and coordinator of the school’s Submerged Aquatic Vegetation Survey, in a media release. “In fact, the expansion of this species in the saltier waters between the Honga River and Pocomoke Sound was one of the driving factors behind the rise in bay grass abundance. While widgeongrass is a boom and bust species, notorious for being incredibly abundant one year and entirely absent the next, its growth is nevertheless great to see.”

Underwater grasses, also known as submerged aquatic vegetation, are critical to the Bay, offering food to invertebrates and waterfowl and providing shelter to fish and crabs. Like grasses on land, underwater grasses need sunlight to survive. When algae blooms or suspended sediment cloud the waters of the Bay, sunlight cannot reach the bottom habitat where grasses live. While healthy grass beds can trap and absorb some nutrient and sediment pollution—thus improving water clarity where they grow—too much pollution can cause grass beds to die. Indeed, poor water clarity remains a challenge for eelgrass growth in deeper waters.

Until this year, the Bay Program mapped underwater grasses by geographic zone. Now, abundance is mapped in four different salinity zones, each of which is home to an underwater grass community that responds differently to strong storms, drought and other adverse growing conditions. This reporting change “makes more ecological sense,” said Lee Karrh, program chief at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and chair of the Bay Program’s Submerged Aquatic Vegetation Workgroup.

“Reworking our historic data was hard work, but doing so makes it easier to understand patterns in grass growth,” Karrh said.

Learn more.



Jun
12
2013

Bernie Fowler measures a sneaker index of 34 inches at annual wade-in

Former Maryland State Senator Bernie Fowler saw his sneakers through 34 inches of water at the 26th annual Patuxent River Wade-In on June 9. This marks a one-inch drop from last year’s “sneaker index,” which is what Fowler has come to call the deepest point at which he can still see his shoes as he wades into the water.

Fowler holds the wade-in each year to bring attention to the polluted waters of the Patuxent River and the Chesapeake Bay. This year marked the fourth wade-in to be held at Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum, after decades on Broomes Island.

In the 1950s, Fowler could wade into the Patuxent up to his chest and still see fish, shellfish and underwater grasses. But as nutrient and sediment pollution are pushed into the river, algae blooms and suspended silt block sunlight from reaching the river bottom and degrade water clarity. The 1950s sneaker index of 63 inches now serves as the benchmark for a restored Patuxent River.

Fowler’s infamous white sneakers were retired before this year’s wade-in, but will be preserved for permanent display at the Calvert Marine Museum.

View more photos on the Chesapeake Bay Program Flickr page.



Oct
11
2012

Report recommends use of multiple models to simulate conditions in Bay’s shallow waters

An advisory committee of scientific experts has released a report recommending that Chesapeake Bay Program partners use multiple models to simulate conditions in the shallow waters of the Chesapeake Bay.

According to the report, improving shallow water simulations of dissolved oxygen and water clarity could improve the Chesapeake Bay Program’s understanding of the impacts that on-land conservation practices can have on the living resources found in shallow, tidal waters.

In the report, experts from the Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee (STAC) note that shallow water conditions are the most difficult to simulate, due in large part to interactions between shallow waters, open waters and land.

This report shows that the comparison of data produced by multiple shallow-water simulation tools could increase our confidence in the strategies managers choose to reduce pollution loads into the Bay. Dissolved oxygen and water clarity, in particular, are two water quality criteria that must be met to “delist” the Bay as impaired.

STAC’s findings encourage the Chesapeake Bay Program to set up a pilot alternative or complementary shallow-water models as soon as possible.

Learn more about the use of multiple models in the management of the Bay.



Jun
13
2011

Bernie Fowler sees his sneakers through 31.25 inches of water

Former Maryland State Senator Bernie Fowler saw his white sneakers through 31.25 inches of water at the 24th annual Patuxent River wade-in on June 12. This was down three inches from last year and a far cry from the 60-plus inches of water Fowler could see his sneakers through during his youth.

About 100 government officials, environmental leaders and members of the community joined Fowler at Jefferson Patterson Park, where the annual Patuxent River wade-in is now held. Fowler had previously hosted the wade-in near his childhood home on Broomes Island.

The Patuxent wade-in is held on the second Sunday of June each year to draw attention to the muddy, polluted waters of the river and Chesapeake Bay. Fowler speaks of the days of his youth when he could wade up to his shoulders in his beloved Patuxent and still see the river's bottom, teeming with crabs and fish swimming among the grasses and oyster shells.

The "sneaker index" is a measurement of the deepest point at which Fowler can still see his white sneakers as he wades into the Patuxent River.

The Patuxent River wade-in has spawned community wade-ins on many creeks and rivers throughout Maryland.



Feb
17
2011

Magothy River health continues to be poor, according to latest report card

The Magothy River in Anne Arundel County, Md., received a D-minus on its latest health report card, the same grade as last year but a significant decline from several years ago, according to the Magothy River Association’s latest Magothy River Index.

The index assesses the river’s health according to three indicators: water clarity, dissolved oxygen and bay grasses. Bay grass acreage in the river decreased in 2007 and water clarity diminished in 2008. Scores for both have remained low ever since.

Low dissolved oxygen at the surface of several creeks is also a problem in the river. Upper Mill and Dividing creeks had the worst surface dissolved oxygen, suggesting that pollution problems that lead to low oxygen levels are worse in those areas.

Despite the low scores, the Magothy River Association is looking to the future to help restore the river. The group is working with scientists to explore if any native species of bivalves other than oysters could be used to help clean up the river. Bivalves can help filter algae out of the water as they feed, but oysters can’t live in many parts of the Magothy because the water is too fresh. One species that may help is dark false mussels, which helped improve water clarity and bay grass acreage in one Magothy River creek in 2005 when they were abundant.

The Magothy River Association also encourages its members and area residents to take small steps to help reduce pollution to the river. Planting more native trees and flowers, installing rain gardens, reducing use of lawn fertilizer and maintaining septic systems are a few of the tips the group suggests. These practices will help reduce pollution no matter where you live.

The Magothy River Index is an annual health report developed by Dr. Peter Bergstrom, a NOAA scientist and Magothy River Association member. The index uses scientific data from state agencies and volunteer water quality monitors. The Magothy River Association has released the index each year since 2003.

For more information, visit the Magothy River Association’s website.



Jun
15
2010

Bernie Fowler Measures "Sneaker Index" of 34.5 Inches at Annual Patuxent River Wade-In

Former Maryland State Senator Bernie Fowler saw his white sneakers through 34.5 inches of water at his 23rd annual Patuxent River wade-in on June 13. Though this was a 9-inch improvement from 2009 and the highest level since 2004, it is still far from the 60-plus inches Fowler could see his sneakers through during his youth.

Fowler, members of the community and environmental leaders from throughout the state this year welcomed the annual Patuxent wade-in to its new permanent home at Jefferson Patterson Park. Fowler has hosted the wade-in near his childhood home on Broomes Island since 1988.

Fowler hosts a wade-in on the second Sunday of June each year to draw attention to the muddy, polluted waters of the Patuxent River and Chesapeake Bay. He speaks of the days of his youth when he could wade up to his shoulders in his beloved Patuxent and still see the river's bottom, teeming with crabs and fish swimming among the grasses and oyster shells.

The "sneaker index" is a measurement of the deepest point at which Fowler can still see his white sneakers as he wades into the Patuxent River.

The Patuxent River wade-in has spawned community wade-ins on many creeks and rivers throughout Maryland. To find out about a wade-in on your local river, visit Maryland DNR's tributary teams website.



Jun
15
2009

Bernie Fowler Sees His Sneakers Through 25.5 Inches of Water at Annual Patuxent River Wade-In

At his 22nd annual Patuxent River Wade-in on June 14, former Maryland State Senator Bernie Fowler saw his white sneakers through 25.5 inches of water -- similar to last year’s measurement of 26 inches but still far from the 60-plus inches Fowler could see his sneakers through during his childhood.

Fowler proclaimed “a new day” for the Patuxent River and Chesapeake Bay due to recent commitments by the governors of Maryland and Virginia and the federal government to strengthen cleanup efforts. He told the crowd of nearly 200 people who came to Broomes Island, Md., for the wade-in not to focus on the river’s poor water quality.

“Today is a day that we want to cleanse that from our thinking and think of this as a new beginning, a time when we will not forfeit our optimism or relent our determination to make this river better,” Fowler said. “We will not stop until this Patuxent River glistens again.”

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley echoed Fowler’s sentiments, encouraging those gathered to help the river and the Bay get better for future generations.

“We need to get our hearts out of the dead zone and our hands and feet into the rivers, where we know we can make a difference,” O’Malley said.

Fowler hosts a wade-in on the second Sunday of June each year to draw attention to the muddy, polluted waters of the Patuxent River and Chesapeake Bay. He speaks of the days of his youth when he could wade up to his shoulders in his beloved Patuxent and still see the river's bottom, teeming with crabs and fish swimming among the grasses and oyster shells.

Since Fowler's first wade-in, other wade-ins have sprung up on creeks and rivers across Maryland and become popular springtime community events.

The annual Patuxent wade-in will have its own “new beginning” next year, when it will move from its usual Broomes Island location to Jefferson Patterson Park, its new permanent location.



Jun
08
2008

Bernie Fowler Wade-in Brings Community, Leaders Together to Focus on Water Quality

Bernie Fowler saw his white sneakers through 26 inches of water during his annual wade-in on the Patuxent River on Sunday, June 8. While it was an increase from last year’s measurement of 21 inches and a vast improvement from the 8 inches recorded 20 years ago in 1988, this year’s measurement did not come close to the estimated 50-plus inches he could see through in the 1960s.

U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) measures the water line on Bernie Fowler's denim overalls. Fowler saw his white sneakers through 26 inches of water at his 21st annual wade-in.

About 100 people braved the heat and humidity for Fowler’s 21st annual wade-in, ranging from schoolchildren to community residents to politicians and environmental leaders, including U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Maryland Secretary of the Environment Shari Wilson.

While the measurement -- called the “Sneaker Index” -- did not reach historically high levels, enthusiasm for the Bay’s future did, as speakers pointed out the significant increases in funding during the past year for the Chesapeake restoration effort.

Fowler, a retired Maryland state senator, hosts a wade-in at Broomes Island on the second Sunday of June each year to draw attention to declining water quality in the Patuxent and larger Chesapeake watershed. He speaks of the days of his youth when he could wade up to his shoulders in his beloved Patuxent and still see the river's bottom, teeming with crabs and fish swimming among the grasses and oyster shells.

Since Fowler's first wade-in, others have sprung up on tributaries across the state, becoming popular springtime community events.

View video from this year’s Bernie Fowler wade-in from WTOP.



Jun
01
2007

Bernie Fowler Wade-in Draws Attention to Patuxent Water Quality

Former Maryland State Senator Bernie Fowler remembers the days of his youth, when he could wade up to his shoulders in his beloved Patuxent River and still see the river's bottom, teeming with crabs and fish swimming among the grasses and oyster shells.

Unfortunately, that picture was not so clear at Fowler's annual Patuxent River wade-in on June 10, when he could see his white sneakers through just 21 inches of water.

On the second Sunday in June for the past 20 years, Fowler has hosted a wade-in at Broomes Island, Md., to measure the depth of water clarity in the Patuxent. More importantly, Fowler uses his annual wade-in to raise public awareness of declining water quality in the river due to nutrient and sediment pollution.

“If we can wade out chest-high and see my feet, and see the little crabs and the grass shrimp clearly, then, we will be there,” said Fowler.

The water line on Fowler's denim overalls is measured and recorded in the “Bernie Fowler Sneaker Index.” Measurements have been as high as 44.5 inches in 1997 and as low as 8 inches in 1989—all a far cry from the 60-plus inches of water Fowler could see through when he was young. This year's measurement of 21 inches was down from 27.5 inches last year.

Despite this year's low reading, spirits were high among the approximately 100 people gathered for the wade-in. Fowler and other attendees expressed optimism about the future of Bay restoration, due to increased public awareness of the environment and a number of environmental and Bay-related bills that became law this year in Maryland.

Others, including Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley and U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) praised Fowler for his work to raise awareness of water quality issues in the Patuxent and larger Bay watershed.

“The Patuxent River has known no greater friend, advocate and defender than Bernie Fowler,” said U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), wearing a “Fowler's Followers” t-shirt. “God created the Patuxent River, and then God blessed the river by giving it Bernie Fowler.”

Since Fowler's first wade-in in 1988, annual wade-ins have begun on more than a dozen other tributaries throughout Maryland, including the Choptank, Patapsco, Potomac, Nanticoke and South rivers.



Jun
12
2006

Bernie's Wade-In Highlights Clarity Problems for River and Bay

Bernie Fowler remembers the days when he could wade up to his shoulders in his beloved Patuxent River and still see the river's bottom, teeming with crabs and fish swimming among the grasses and oyster shells.

Today the picture is not so clear. The river has been clouded by years of nutrient pollution and sediment runoff. Even at waist height, it is hard to catch a glimpse of the bottom.

To draw attention to this issue, Bernie began wading into the Patuxent River each year to measure water clarity. “If we can wade out chest high and see my feet, and see the little crabs and the grass shrimp clearly, then, we will be there,” said Bernie, who has waded into the river on the second Sunday of every June since 1988.

This year, on June 11, a crowd of more than 100 gathered with him, including school children, river advocates and Maryland gubernatorial candidates Martin O'Malley and Doug Duncan. All spoke of a declining river in need of help and protection.

Following the speakers, Bernie waded into the river hand-in-hand with friends, relatives and others, until he could no longer see his shoes. The waterline on Bernie's denim overalls—known as the “sneaker index”—was measured at 27.5 inches, similar to last year's mark of 27 inches.

While the river's health appears to be holding steady, it will take a concentrated effort by many to bring it back to the clear conditions that Bernie remembers. Improved water clarity could cause an ecological domino effect, with more underwater grass beds that filter water, produce oxygen and soften wave action. Water clarity is indicative of a healthy river and Bay, and is a key component of water quality, which the Bay Program is working to improve.



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