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Chesapeake Bay Program's 2009 Bay Barometer shows slight upticks in health, but continued poor overall condition for the Bay; accelerated restoration efforts needed

Annapolis, Md. (April 07, 2010)

The Chesapeake Bay Program (CBP) released the 2009 Bay Barometer today, showing that the Bay continues to be degraded and illustrating 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.

"As current Chair of the Principals' Staff Committee overseeing the Bay Program, I have witnessed first hand the way that all of our partners have stepped up to accelerate restoration efforts,” says Shawn Garvin, Regional Administrator (EPA Region 3). “The challenge now is to not only sustain that level of effort, but increase it further.”

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.

Health

Although there were improvements in some areas of the Bay’s health in 2009, the ecosystem remains in poor condition. The overall health averaged 45 percent based on goals for water quality, habitats and lower food web, and fish and shellfish abundance - a 6 percent increase from 2008.

  • 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 1/2 were in very poor or poor condition and slightly fewer than 1/2 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

The Bay Program partnership achieved 64 percent of its restoration goals to reduce pollution, restore habitats, manage fisheries, protect watersheds and foster stewardship. Unfortunately, human activities continue to contribute more pollution, offsetting many of the accomplishments restoration projects have made.

  • 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.

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