Bay’s report card still promising (Editorial)

by | Jun 22, 2018

The health of the Chesapeake Bay is trending in a sustained positive direction for the first time since the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science began issuing its bay report card, dating back to 1986.
In past report card years, specific regions throughout Chesapeake Bay have shown improving trends, but this is the first year that the overall Chesapeake Bay is showing significant improvement.
Overall Chesapeake Bay Health Scores have been variable in the past.
However, since 2015, Chesapeake Bay Health Scores have consistently been in the high “C” range.
These consecutive high scores have contributed to an overall positive trajectory for the first time.
Out of 15 reporting regions, eight had higher scores in 2017 than 2016.
There are seven indicators that make up the Bay Health Index for the Chesapeake Bay Report Card.
The report card evaluates seven indicators including nitrogen, phosphorus, water clarity and aquatic grasses.
Each indicator is compared to scientifically derived thresholds and or goals and scored to determine the overall grade.
The overall score increased for nitrogen, aquatic grasses and the fisheries index from last year’s report card. Bay grasses are at their highest recorded levels.
Blue crab and striped bass scores either reached or stayed at 100 percent.
Other recent studies have shown improvements in Chesapeake Bay conditions.
In one study, UMCES scientists showed that dead zones (areas of low or no dissolved oxygen) in the lower Chesapeake Bay are beginning to break up earlier in the year, which is an indication that efforts to reduce nutrient pollution to the Bay are beginning to make an impact.
They found that over the past 30 years, the improved oxygen conditions have also created a feedback loop that allows even more nitrogen to be removed from the Chesapeake Bay, which helps ecosystem recovery.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s midpoint assessment of the bay’s cleanup plan also noted marked improvement in many areas.
This sumer, the Environmental Protection Agency will release its 2017 progress data adding another view of where the bay is heading.
”Water quality is improving. The dead zone is getting smaller, scientists have documented record Bay grass acreage again this year, and the Bay’s oyster population is improving,” said William C. Baker, CBF president.
As the Chesapeake Bay’s improvements were cheered, environmental groups used the announcement to highlight states’ shortfalls in reduction areas and advocate for continued monitoring, stronger controls and litigation if necessary, to assure bay health continues to improve.
“While we can celebrate progress being made in the restoration of Chesapeake Bay, we can’t take our foot off of the accelerator,” said Peter Goodwin, UMCES president.
Baker called the recovery effort “fragile,” indicating a slight change in course would have far reaching effects.
Farming in Mid-Atlantic is at a fragile state right now, too.
A growing season’s worth of rain falling in a month has farmers replanting summer crops multiple times in some places and leaving some spring crops in the field unable to harvest.
With the excess water finally receding, it’s now onto fighting a flush of disease and other pests, all in a severely compressed window of time to work.
A looming trade war with crucial export markets poses a threat to an already beleaguered commodity market.
Add in labor shortages and ever-increasing input costs and the breaking point comes into scary focus.
Clearly, this improvement needs to continue with the Chesapeake Bay, and it likely will.
Conservation efforts were put in place long before the Bay cleanup plan was initiated in 2010 and we are seeing the benefits of all of it.
It’s not time to coast, but neither is it time to be inflexible with a by-any-means-necessary mentality.
Continuing with Goodwin’s driving analogy, when a curve in the road comes up, the driver must react.
Farmers in the region have had numerous curves come up on them this year.
Their reactions aren’t detrimental to the Chesapeake Bay, the aftershocks of challenging weather, volatile markets, a looming international trade war and labor shortages, make the outlook ever more fragile for farm viability.
Then the health of the Chesapeake Bay really would be in jeopardy.

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