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The health of the Cheaspeake Bay has improved, according the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s 2012 State of the Bay Report released Jan. 2.

The report states that the bay’s health has improved by one point, to a score of 32, since the last report in 2010, with a 10 percent improvement in less than five years, a CBF press release states. Of the 13 indicators of the bay’s health, five improved, seven remained the same and only one declined.

The CBF is a “private sector voice working on behalf of the Bay,” through education, advocacy, litigation and restoration, the foundation’s website states. The report is compiled from the best available historical and up-to-date information for each indicator and is then assigned an index score between 1 and 100 that also corresponds to a letter grade.

“We can be proud of the progress we have made,” wrote CBF President William C. Baker in the report. “It demonstrates what can happen when government, businesses, and individuals work cooperatively. But, we cannot rest. A Bay health index of 32 on a scale of 1 to 100 should be a sobering reminder that there is a great deal left to do.”

The 13 indicators, including oysters, crabs, rockfish, underwater grasses, wetlands, toxics, water clarity and dissolved oxygen, fall into three different categories: pollution, habitat and fisheries.

In 2012, the report shows that levels of phosphorus improved four points from 2010 to a new score of 27 because phosphorus loads in runoff decreased.

Dissolved oxygen increased six points from 2010 to a score of 25. “The average size of the Chesapeake’s dead zone ... was the second smallest since 1985,” the report states, noting that the Bay didn’t suffer, as some scientists expected, from the effects of heavy pollution from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee in the fall of 2011. The resource lands indicator increased one point from 2010 to a score of 32. The report notes Pennsylvania and Virginia’s efforts of adding, on average, 37,000 and 23,000 acres of forest each year, respectively, However, the report states that Maryland has lost about 8,000 acres annually and, because of budget pressure, cut its 2010 added resource land protection acreage in half in 2011 to 13,654 acres, while Pennsylvania and Virginia both increased permanently preserved land.

“Maryland deserves praise, however, for passing the Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act,” the report states. The act requires local jurisdictions to limit residential subdivisions to certain areas and what type of sewerage system on which they may be served.

With improved survival and a “dedicated, science-based restoration effort,” oysters increased one point from 2010 to a score of 6. The report highlights that the annual production of young oysters that began as plankton and attached to shell or some other hard surface to mature, also known as the spatset, “have been thriving.”

In 2012, blue crabs also increased five points from 2010 to a score of 55. According to the report, the blue crab population reached its “highest winter survey results since the mid-1990s,” with about 750 million crabs. In 2010, the blue crab score had jumped 15 points after new management practices were put in place in 2008. The report notes that although there is an increase in the population, the number of adult crabs found in the survey declined for the second year in a row.

The only indicator to drop points was underwater grasses. The score dropped two points since 2010 to a score of 20.

“From 2010 to 2011, the acres of underwater grasses in the Bay and its tidal rivers decreased by roughly 20 percent,” the report states, citing “extreme weather conditions,” such as high water temperatures that caused eelgrass to die off and heavy rain that resulted in sediment and other pollutant runoff clouding the water.

Nitrogen and water clarity indicators retained their scores of 16; toxics remained at a score of 28; forested buffers retained a score of 58 based on an estimate of the proportion of the basin’s 110,000 miles of streams and shoreline that are buffered with forest; the wetlands indicator, which includes both tidal and non-tidal wetlands, retained its score of 42; rockfish remained at a score of 69 due to a decrease in population, though “they remain above their management target”; and the shad indicator stayed at a score of 9 because “the numbers of American shad along the Atlantic coast and in the Chesapeake tributaries continue to be very low.”

The overall score of 32 is still well below the goal of 70, which represents a “saved Bay,” the release states. A score of 100 on the scale would mirror something similar to the “unspoiled Bay ecosystem described by Captain John Smith in the 1600s, with its extensive forests and wetlands, clear water, abundant fish and oysters, and lush growths of submerged vegetation.”

For Maryland in 2013, the release states, the CBF has made it a priority to: ensure the Bay Trust Fund, which provides money and technical assistance to local jurisdictions, is fully funded; work with local jurisdictions to identify cost-effective strategies for pollution reduction; and, defend gains made during the 2012 legislative session to reduce pollution from stormwater, septic systems and sprawling development.

“Maryland has been a leader in charting a course toward Bay restoration,” said CBF Maryland Executive Director Alison Prost in the release. “We understand that there are concerns at the local level about how to implement the Clean Water Blueprint. ... We share those concerns, but believe that solutions exist or are on the horizon.”

The Clean Water Blueprint requires those in the “Bay states” to “ratchet down pollution to local creeks, rivers and the Bay.”

In the release, Baker said, “We have never before had this level of accountability and transparency in Bay restoration efforts. This is indeed THE moment in time for the Bay. Our children and grandchildren can inherit a restored Chesapeake Bay, but only if we continue the hard work and investments that will lead to success.”



aharrison@somdnews.com