Wednesday, January 11, 2023

State of the Bay 2022

Last week the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) released their bi-annual State of the Bay health index score.  In 2022 they found the overall health of the Bay and its watershed unchanged from the 2020 score of 32, a D+ in their system of scoring. Of the 13 indicators they assessed, three improved and three declined. Phosphorus scores improved, but water clarity declined. A big improvement for oysters was tempered by a worrying drop for blue crabs. They state in the report that long-term data shows a shrinking of the annual dead zone; and state large-scale oyster restoration is working.

from Chesapeake Bay Foundation

The 2022 State of the Bay Report scores the health of the bay at 32 out of 100, a D+ according to their scoring system which measures the current state of the Bay against the unspoiled Bay ecosystem described by Captain John Smith in the 1600s, with extensive forests and wetlands, clear water, abundant fish and oysters, and lush growths of submerged vegetation would rate a 100 on their scale. That was a time when this region was 95% old growth forests and sparsely populated. It is unlikely that vision is compatible with the vision for population and industrial growth that the region has embraced.

The Chesapeake Bay Clean Water Blueprint appears not to be working to restore the health of the Bay if you are to judge by the scores that are awarded by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. The current goals of Clean Water Blueprint is a grade of 40, by 2025. The Clean Water Plan is the name for the enforceable pollution limits for nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment pollution in the Chesapeake Bay (formerly called the Bay TMDL) mandated by the EPA to the six Bay states and the District of Columbia. Each of the jurisdictions created a plan (approved by the EPA) called Watershed Implementation Plans or WIPs, to meet those limits by 2025. The states agreed to have the 60% of the needed programs and practices in place by 2017, and to complete the job by 2025.

Virginia remains on track to achieve its 2025 pollution-reduction commitments, largely due to wastewater treatment plants, which account for over 90 % of its nitrogen and phosphorus reductions since the Blueprint’s establishment. This progress currently keeps Virginia on track overall, even though the Commonwealth is not meeting commitments to reduce polluted runoff from agriculture and urban and suburban areas. Long term, this is not sustainable, especially when pollution from stormwater continues to grow.

Average water clarity decreased slightly between 2020 and 2022. Water clarity is measured as the depth in the water column to which sunlight can penetrate. Sunlight is vital to the growth of underwater grasses, which trap sediment, add oxygen to the water, and provide habitat for aquatic organisms.  

In 2022, the size of the Bay’s hypoxic dead zone was below average, in part due to the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. Overall, though, far too much pollution still reaches waterways, and states are behind in their commitments to reduce it. Progress to date has relied heavily on pollution reductions at wastewater treatment plants. However, to ensure long-term water-quality improvements pollution from agriculture and urban and suburban runoff must accelerate. The impact of climate change, which scientists expect will intensify storms and wash more pollutants into waterways, must also be addressed. Climate change also threatens the watershed’s critical habitats- rising sea levels and intensifying storms that wash more pollution into the water.

Forests, wetlands, and underwater grasses are critical to the health of the Chesapeake Bay. They provide food and shelter to wildlife like blue crabs, and many other species. They serve as natural filters that reduce pollution flowing into rivers, streams, and the Bay. In communities, they slow flood waters, produce oxygen, and provide green spaces. Unfortunately, efforts to restore wetlands and plant forest buffers along waterways are languishing, with states meeting just a fraction of the goals established by the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement. At the same time, approximately 95,000 acres of farms and forests transitioned to development across the Bay watershed during the most recent reporting period.

No comments:

Post a Comment