by Stephanie Smith
February 01, 2017
Our annual report on environmental health and restoration in the Chesapeake Bay watershed shows we have reached—and in some cases, surpassed—the halfway mark toward half a dozen of the commitments built into the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement. In the face of risks posed by land use changes and political uncertainty, our partnership has renewed its emphasis on engaging landowners and local governments in achieving our vision of a sustainable watershed. We stand with federal agencies, states, academic institutions and nongovernmental organizations in a united front against risks and threats.
Bay Barometer: Health and Restoration in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed (2015-2016) is a science-based snapshot of the nation’s largest estuary. This data it features informs the work of various individuals and organizations, including the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) and the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES). Earlier this year, CBF graded the Chesapeake Bay a ‘C-‘ in its biannual State of the Bay report; in May 2016, UMCES graded it a ‘C’ in its Chesapeake Bay Report Card.
The indicators of environmental health, restoration and stewardship summarized in Bay Barometer reveal a resilient Chesapeake Bay. The data in this report reflect the Bay’s health over the course of many years and, in some cases, decades. In 2016, for instance, an analysis of the first oyster reefs to be built and seeded with larvae in Maryland’s Harris Creek showed that all reefs met the minimum criteria for success in oyster weight and density, and half met even higher weight and density targets. In the same year, an annual count of blue crabs revealed the population of adult females had reached its highest total of the last five years and was just ten percent below the restoration target. In 2015, underwater grass abundance reached its highest total of the last three decades and surpassed the 2017 target two years ahead of schedule. The continued health of underwater grass beds, the restoration of native oyster reefs and the sustainable management of fish and shellfish will benefit local seafood economies, but will require continued efforts to reduce pollution and protect wildlife habitat. You can track our progress toward the Oyster, Blue Crab Abundance and Submerged Aquatic Vegetation outcomes online.
Reducing Pollution, Protecting Land
Federal, state and local agencies are often on the front lines of pollution control. The pollution-reducing practices that states have put in place—including upgrading wastewater treatment plants, lowering vehicle and power plant emissions, and reducing runoff from farmland—are integral in ensuring the Chesapeake Bay meets its “pollution diet.” A recent analysis shows these practices are in place to achieve 81 percent of the phosphorus reductions, 48 percent of the sediment reductions and 31 percent of the nitrogen reductions needed to reach our clean water goals. Indeed, significant nutrient reductions in the wastewater sector allowed the partnership as a whole to meet its 2025 pollution reduction targets for this sector ten years ahead of schedule.
Federal, state and local agencies also play a critical role alongside nongovernmental organizations and individual landowners in protecting land from development. Between 2010 and 2015, these partners protected more than one million acres, marking an achievement of 50 percent of the target. When fully realized, our protected lands goal will help ensure the watershed can withstand population growth while sustaining the plants, animals and people that live here. You can track our progress toward the Reducing Pollution and Protected Lands outcomes online.
As the watershed’s population grows, development pressures are dramatically changing the landscape. Urban and suburban development can fragment habitat, harden shorelines, increase impervious surfaces and push pollution into rivers and streams. On the other hand, land use pressures can also open opportunities for dialogue and decision-making to protect ecologically and culturally valuable lands or mitigate damage when impacts are impossible to avoid.
Because public and political attitudes toward conservation vary, approaches to education, engagement and policy must be tailored toward local needs and opportunities. For these reasons, our partnership has placed a renewed emphasis on engaging landowners and local governments in our work to restore forest buffers, wetlands and other habitats, protect land from development, maintain healthy watersheds and more. Most notably, the partnership’s governing body recently signed a resolution to support local government engagement; commended the actions taken by local governments and local utilities to address their pollution reduction goals within the wastewater sectors; and committed to raising awareness about the economic and environmental benefits of investing in watershed protection and restoration efforts at the local level.