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Watershed and River Health

Healthy forests and streams are intrinsically linked to healthy rivers and the Chesapeake Bay. The Bay watershed's streams, creeks and rivers eventually flow to the Bay, so their health directly affects the entire Bay.

The Bay Program uses the most current monitoring data to assess the health of forests and streams.


Forested areas filter and retain water, thereby reducing pollution and improving water quality. They also provide valuable ecological services and economic benefits, including carbon sequestration, flood control, wildlife habitat and forest products. Forests protect and filter drinking water for 75 percent of the Bay watershed's residents. Forests also absorb air pollution and retain up to 85 percent of the airborne nitrogen from sources such as automobiles and power plants.

  • Forest Cover: In the 1600s, forests covered 95 percent of the watershed. Now only 55 percent of the watershed is forested.

Health of Freshwater Streams

In general, streams in forested areas tend to be in good to excellent condition, whereas streams in large urban areas and heavily farmed areas tend to be in very poor to fair condition.

Flow-adjusted Pollution Trends

River flow and pollution concentrations vary from year to year, depending on precipitation. Scientists calculate flow-adjusted trends to remove these variations and assess whether pollution has changed over time.

River Health Report Cards

Many local watershed groups release report cards that detail the health of the rivers that flow to the Bay. Below is a list of river health report cards from around the region. If we’ve missed one, please contact us so we can add it to the list.

Additionally, Chesapeake EcoCheck develops and releases many river report cards.

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