Chesapeake Bay restoration gets D-plus grade from bay foundation
Efforts to clean and restore the Chesapeake Bay aren’t moving quickly enough — in fact, many aspects like water clarity have gotten worse over the past two years.
That’s what the Chesapeake Bay Foundation says in its latest State of the Bay report.
The nonprofit does the assessment every other year to track officials’ progress on reversing pollution and helping crucial wildlife.
In 2020, it gave the bay restoration a D-plus. Two years later, the grade hasn’t budged.
“We have a lot of work to do to restore clean water to the Chesapeake Bay and address the impacts of climate change,” said foundation president Hilary Falk. “While there are not as many upticks on indicators as we would like, we see a lot of opportunities in the next couple years.”
The authors of the report look at 13 indicators of the bay’s health, including toxic chemicals present in the water, underwater grasses and the populations of marine creatures like rockfish and oysters.
Many haven’t changed at all since the last report, like progress on restoring wetlands and marine plants.
The nonprofit says several health indicators have gotten worse, including water clarity. That’s defined as how deep into the water sunlight can reach.
Underwater grasses need that light to grow and survive. Those plants in turn serve as habitats for other wildlife and add oxygen to the water.
Pollution from nutrients remains a big issue. When phosphorus and nitrogen run off the land and into the bay — from sources including farms and sewage plants — they can deplete the water of oxygen. The resulting "dead zones" can suffocate wildlife.
The number of blue crabs in the bay also took a serious tumble. Fifty-five million fewer were recorded last winter than the year before. Officials still don’t know exactly why.
The bay foundation said in the new report that officials should consider updating regulations on the fishery.
There is some good news – oysters and rockfish numbers have increased since 2020.
Virginia and Maryland have recorded some of their highest rates of oyster reproduction in three decades, according to foundation scientist Chris Moore.
But there’s a long way to go. Oysters still got an F grade.
The District of Columbia and six states in the bay watershed, including Virginia, are under a federal agreement called the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint that sets milestones for pollution reduction by 2025.
It developed after a 2010 settlement with the Environmental Protection Agency in order to remove the bay from a federal “dirty waters” list. The EPA agreed to impose consequences for not meeting the 2025 terms.
Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania are not on track to meet the deadline, officials acknowledged last year.
“While 2025 is an important deadline, it is not the finish line,” Falk said Thursday.
The bay foundation notes Pennsylvania, in particular, is far behind its pollution reduction targets.