ANNAPOLIS (AP) — The health of the nation’s largest estuary dropped from a C to a C-minus last year in an annual report card released Tuesday, May 19, on the Chesapeake Bay.
That is the lowest score and first C-minus since 2011. While several indicators of the Bay’s health improved last year, the report found they did not offset those that declined.
“Moderate and poor scores in 2019 were mainly due to above-average temperatures almost every month of the year,” the report by the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science said.
The heat hurt aquatic grasses and small bottom-dwelling aquatic life and lowered dissolved oxygen levels, the report said.
“Precipitation was not above normal for the region as a whole, but extreme and severe periods of rain caused pollution from run-off,” the report said. “There were also possibly lingering effects from the record rainfalls in 2018 that stressed the Bay and watershed.”
It was the second year in a row the Bay’s health dropped in the report. However, the report noted that all long-term trends for Bay health are either steady or positively increasing.
For the first time in its 14-year history, the report also scored the health of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, which received a B-minus grade.
“The Chesapeake is resilient and while the health score fell due to the intense rainfall and elevated temperatures, we are seeing trends that Bay health is still improving over time,” said Bill Dennison, vice president for science application at UMCES. “We were very encouraged to see many regions in the Bay significantly improving.”
For the first time, UMCES incorporated socioeconomic indicators in its report card in addition to ecological indicators. The report used measures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that indicate how able a community is to respond and bounce back from hazardous events like tornadoes or disease outbreak. The measures include data on household composition, disability, minority status and language and housing and transportation.
Since 2014, all regions have been improving or remaining steady, the report said, and seven out of 15 regions showed significantly improving health trends.
“We were very encouraged to see many regions in the Bay significantly improving. The Upper Bay improved, the Elizabeth River and James River are up, and the Patapsco did much better,” Dennison said. “A good news item is that the James River won the Thiess International River Prize for river basin management in 2019, acknowledging that Chesapeake restoration efforts are being recognized on a global scale.”
Fish populations received an A grade, showing an improvement from 2018. Blue crab numbers rebounded in 2019, as did the Bay anchovy population — showing fish populations are resilient to stress, the report said.
“The Bay is proving to be resilient in the face of climate change due to actions that have already been implemented, but we must redouble our collective efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and protect the Bay,” said Peter Goodwin, the president of UMCES and a member of the Maryland Commission on Climate Change.
The annual report was released a day after officials in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia filed a notice of intent to sue the Environmental Protection Agency for failing to require Pennsylvania and New York to develop plans to achieve 2025 restoration goals as stipulated in an agreement by states in the Bay’s watershed. EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said the claim has no merit.