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Chesapeake Bay water quality improves, but falls short of 2017 goal

Buckroe Beach overlooks the Chesapeake Bay in Hampton, Va. on Jan. 25, 2017.

Water quality in the Chesapeake Bay has reached an all-time high, but it still isn’t enough for the bay to be considered healthy.

The Chesapeake Bay Program says almost 40 percent of the Chesapeake Bay has met clean water standards, but the quality falls short of the program’s 2017 goal, which was to have the bay at a 60 percent improvement in quality, according to a Chesapeake Bay Program news release.

“Robust funding, science and stewardship are paying off and cleaning up the Bay but we still have a long way to go,” Ben H. Grumbles, chair of the Chesapeake Bay Program Principals’ Staff Committee, said.

In the past few years, the program has taken steps to improve the health of the bay.

In 2016, the Chesapeake Executive Council, U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced more funding, additional technical assistance and an increase in efforts to control nitrogen in the bay, the release said.

The steps have improved the health of the bay in the last year, resulting in a 2 percent increase in quality from the previous assessment in 2014, 2015 and 2016.

Repairing a “crucial” resource

The improvement in water quality, although not as significant as the Chesapeake Bay Program aimed for, is still something to celebrate.

“Increases in water quality standards attainment is encouraging to see and suggest that the work of the Bay Program partnership in reducing pollutants is having the desired effect. But we must also recognize that our work is not finished,” said James Davis-Martin, chair of the Chesapeake Bay Program, Water Quality Goal Implementation Team, and Chesapeake Bay coordinator for the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.

Water quality monitoring shows a large rise in dissolved oxygen in the deep channel of the bay this year — a marked improvement.

Dissolved oxygen is important to the living creatures in the bay because, like humans, they need oxygen to survive, according to the bay program’s website.

Improvements in water quality take time and results may lag behind the start of restorative actions, the release said.

Storms and runoff

Several factors affect the Chesapeake Bay’s health.

In recent years, Hurricane Irene and tropical storm Lee have negatively impacted the health of the bay. Storms such as these can cause highly polluted runoff toward the bay which will fuel algal blooms and reduce water clarity, according to Maryland’s Eyes on the Bay website.

In addition to the natural damages from weather, the bay is also suffering from the effects of agricultural and urban runoff, the release said.

Each section of the bay suffers from particular issues, and data shows problems with nitrogen content in the Virginia area. There have been improvements in nitrogen trends in both the James and Rappahannock areas, the release said.

Future improvements

Fixing the issues is on a tight timeline.

The Chesapeake Bay Program is committed to having the bay’s clean water goals met by 2025, according to its website.

To reach that goal, the Chesapeake Bay needed to start with a 60 percent increase in quality in 2017 — a benchmark that was not met in 2017.

Meeting the goal requires the six watershed states and the District of Columbia to implement all pollution-reducing practices by 2025.

“We are seeing real progress through our ongoing collaboration with local, state, regional and national partners to restore the Chesapeake Bay and the creeks and rivers that feed it,” Gov. Terry McAuliffe said in an October 2016 news release. “Our legacy to future generations must include the preservation of this unique resource, which is so crucial to the Commonwealth’s quality of life and our work to build a new Virginia economy.”

Goals for 2018 have not been determined, but will be decided in meetings held in early 2018, the website said.

For more information visit the Chesapeake Bay Program’s website.

Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing is the Assistant Editor at WYDaily. Sarah was born in the state of Maine, grew up along the coast, and attended college at the University of Maine at Orono. Sarah left Maine in October 2015 when she was offered a job at a newspaper in West Point, Va. Courts, crime, public safety and civil rights are among Sarah’s favorite topics to cover. She currently covers those topics in Williamsburg, James City County and York County. Sarah has been recognized by other news organizations, state agencies and civic groups for her coverage of a failing fire-rescue system, an aging agriculture industry and lack of oversight in horse rescue groups. In her free time, Sarah enjoys lazing around with her two cats, Salazar and Ruth, drinking copious amounts of coffee and driving places in her white truck.

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