On Thursday morning the Chesapeake Bay Foundation released their 2016 State of the Bay report, rating the overall health of the waterway at 34. The grade is up two points and 6 percent from the last report in 2014 and the highest it has been since the first report in 1998.
Will Baker, president of the foundation, said that the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint’s initiative to reduce pollution, which started in 2010, has contributed to the positive gains in the waterway.
“Water clarity is better than many of us who have been looking at this system for decades have ever seen,” Baker said. “It’s setting records in parts of the bay and its rivers. Clear water is critical to a healthy system.”
The report rates the status of 13 different indicators in the categories of pollution, habitat and fisheries. Of those indicators, nine saw an increase in health, three saw no change and one category dropped by one point.
Pollution, overall, grew nine points, with nitrogen earning one point, and both phosphorous and dissolved oxygen seeing a three-point gain. Habitats also saw overall growth with lush, underwater grass beds at what Baker called record levels in some areas of the bay.
Most noticeably, fisheries experienced the largest positive growth, with blue crabs gaining a 10-point margin on 2014’s grade. According the report, the number of adult crabs have nearly tripled in the last two years, with the number of mature female crabs edging closer to the target population of the watershed. Overall population went from an estimated 297 million to 553 million since 2014.
The oyster population also saw an increase in 2015 stemming from oyster reproduction between 2010 and 2012.
“Native oysters are making a comeback after a near commercial extinction. They nearly became so low in population that it wasn’t worthwhile to harvest them,” Baker said.
Though there was an increase in population, numbers slipped in 2016 due to “greater harvest pressure from watermen,” the report said.
Even with the positive progress, Baker said it’s important to note that the bay hasn’t been saved just yet.
“Our score keeps the bay in the dangerously out of balance zone. It reminds all of us how much more needs to be done to achieve a shared vision of a stable, and ultimately, saved bay,” Baker said.
Environmental policies in Virginia, along with Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., must continue to work towards the overall health and cleanliness of the bay, Baker said.
At the end of the calendar year, the six states and Washington, D.C. will reach the interim benchmark set by the foundation. Baker said that Virginia is largely on track to meet its interim goal, but there is still significant work to be done. If the bay’s health could earn the grade of a 40 by the end the year, that would satisfy the 2025 goals of the blueprint plan.
“That would be a huge lift, but we think is achievable,” Baker said. “A 40 is the first real incremental goal, then on to a 50 and, ultimately, a 70.”