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The Chesapeake Bay received a D+ for its overall health, according to a report released Tuesday by the non-profit Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

The poor rating accounts for pollution levels and the health of fisheries and habitats around the bay watershed. Although water quality is modestly improving and oysters are rebounding, other fisheries are suffering and the report found that bay-adjacent states must do more to restore the nation’s largest estuary.

“The Chesapeake Bay is still dangerously out of balance, but there’s hope for improvement as pollution levels decline and the dead zone retreats,” said CBF President William Baker, referring to a low-oxygen area in the bay where sea life struggles to survive.

CBF releases the State of the Bay report every two years. The Chesapeake previously received a D+ in 2018 after record rainfall washed large amounts of pollution from city streets and rural farms into the watershed. 

This year's report concluded that overfishing, habitat loss and pollution have harmed sea life around the Chesapeake. Rockfish, an iconic bay species according to CBF, are especially at risk because Maryland has taken a “piecemeal approach” to reducing overfishing.

The release of the report comes as Washington D.C., Virginia, West Virginia, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania and New York work to meet goals as part of the Clean Water Blueprint, which aims to ensure major pollution reductions around the watershed by 2025.

The report found the blueprint appears to be working. Nitrogen and phosphorus levels are down as some states reduce pollution from wastewater treatment plants. In Virginia, improvements have been made at treatment plants in the Potomac and Shenandoah watersheds. More progress is necessary at plants around the James and Rappahanock rivers, said CBF Virginia Executive Director Peggy Sanner. 

Dissolved oxygen and water clarity levels in the bay, crucial for sea life, are also improving. The 2020 dead zone was the second best in Maryland since the 1980s and among the best in Virginia.

Still, Baker said the Trump administration’s rollbacks to clean air and water protections will ultimately increase pollution in the Chesapeake unless they’re overturned.

Some states also aren’t doing enough to clean up the watershed. CBF and several states, including Virginia, have sued the Environmental Protection Agency for allowing New York and Pennsylvania to fall short of pollution reduction targets.

“Maryland, Virginia Delaware and the District of Columbia have developed plans which, if they get fully implemented, will meet the 2025 goal,” Baker said. “The plans for Pennsylvania and New York, however, are far off track. We should be further along.”

Baker expressed hope that President-elect Joe Biden will be a reliable partner on restoration efforts since Biden was a long-time senator from Delaware, part of the bay watershed.

According to the CBF report, climate change is another major factor for the bay’s health. Intensifying rainstorms caused by global warming wash more pollutants into waterways.

Sanner said state lawmakers should pass legislation during an upcoming session that helps local governments expand tree canopies as a cost-effective tool to reduce polluted stormwater runoff.

The General Assembly must also increase funding for agricultural cost-share programs, which incentivize farmers to employ practices that protect water quality.

“Virginia can boast many successes over its longstanding efforts to restore the Chesapeake Bay, but the Commonwealth will have to accelerate its work to achieve our goals,” Sanner said.