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James Drake

Last week, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation issued its State of the Bay Report for 2012 and the overall health of the Chesapeake Bay improved just by one point over the last report in 2010.

The score for 2012 was a 32 and this translates into a D-plus grade.

For starters, I think the grading scale used by the CBF is on quite an accommodating curve. I also believe maybe a wild-pitch knuckleball would describe it better.

The range of possible scores on the bay’s now semi-annual CBF health assessment go from 1 to 100.

When I was in school, a D-plus was a barely passing grade. However, if you had actually gotten that low of a score, it indicated a student surely hadn’t mastered the material, but at least he or she managed to squeak by knowing something and didn’t have to face those exact same books and that same frightful teacher again.

A D-plus should be somewhere in the range of a score around 65. Our Chesapeake Bay got a score of 32 and the CBF calls that a D-plus.

I’d think a score of 32 more properly would mean you made it to the classroom, didn’t fall out of your seat, took the test and only managed to spell most of your name correctly. A score of 32 is terrible and should be a failure on most any reasonable scoring curve.

Thirteen different indicators made up this latest CBF report. They are oysters, shad, crabs, striped bass, underwater grasses, wetlands, forested buffers, resource lands, toxics, water clarity, dissolved oxygen, phosphorus and nitrogen pollution. For 2012, five of the indicators improved, seven stayed the same and one declined from the last report.

The decline was for underwater grasses which actually decreased about 20 percent from 2010 to 2011 and then stayed pretty much unchanged from 2011 to 2012.

The CBF gave a grade of 69 for striped bass in this latest report and they’re giving that a letter grade of “A.” This score is unchanged from the 2010 report and yet the official Maryland Striped Bass Young of the Year Index for 2012 was the lowest number ever recorded.

Having the worst striped bass spawn ever this past year didn’t drop the grade from the CBF even a little? Interesting.

The CBF 2012 grade for oysters was also curious. The 2012 oyster score was up but one point to a 6, or an “F” grade on the CBF scale.

As recently as the mid-1980s, Maryland’s oyster harvest was annually well over a million bushels every season. Since then, the numbers have never even approached a half million. In 2011, the commercial harvest was something like 124,000 bushels. Yet, in the past five years or so, we have spent enormous sums to bring back the oyster populations in the Chesapeake Bay.

Literally billions of young oysters have been planted in the water just since 2010. Millions of dollars are spent every year on oyster restoration projects, oyster reefs, sanctuary development, protection, management of the commercial oyster fishery, research and aquaculture development by agencies such as Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources, the University of Maryland, the Oyster Recovery Partnership, Oxford Lab and more, and all this for the CBF to increase the oyster score from a 5 to a 6.

That’s not getting much of a bang for a whole lot of very big bucks that are being spent, not to mention the efforts of so many people working out there trying to help the oysters recover.

While we’re on the subject of wisely spending money, consider that the Chesapeake Bay Foundation began in 1967 and think about the millions and millions of dollars they’ve collected since, and yet our Chesapeake Bay scores 32 out of 100 in this latest assessment.

Granted, cleaning up the Chesapeake is one real tough job, but the CBF has had now over 40 years to give it their best shot. From its own reporting, the CBF spends around $9 million on salaries and fringe benefits every year and has accumulated a wealth of some $90 million in investments, cash and pledges receivable.

Its astonishing multi-million dollar office complex in Annapolis is really quite nice with gorgeous water views, with its own private beach, a canvasback conference room and nearby tented deck, and has won international acclaim for energy efficiency.

Still, as far as cleaning up the bay, I’d give them an overall grade of around 32 right now and I wouldn’t be calling it a D-plus either.

Consider the fact that for many years, when we get a hard downpour, the huge Blue Plains wastewater treatment plant that services metropolitan Washington, D.C., couldn’t handle the overflow and they simply throw open a valve and everything coming down from the sky goes right into the Potomac River directly, and that includes all the raw sewage still in those pipes.

This revolting act is still being repeated at much smaller sewage treatment plants all up and down rivers that feed into the Chesapeake.

So many more millions of people live in the Chesapeake Bay watershed than in 1967 when the CBF was begun. More people only mean more pollution entering the system every year. We’re barely staying even.

What’s needed is a real commitment from all the jurisdictions that feed this watershed to spend the major big bucks necessary to solve the problems. We’ve got the expertise and understand how it could be done. What’s been missing is the leadership to spend the huge sums it will take to make it happen.

We certainly can’t count on the U.S. Congress to do much of anything, and, so far, the efforts from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation have fallen far short of its goal to save the bay.

Heads up

Recently discovered by some Russian amateur astronomers, a new comet, dubbed Ison, may put on a dazzling astronomical display next fall when it approaches Earth.

Ison could give us quite a show from roughly next October through January. Once it gets closer to us, the sun’s heat will begin to vaporize ices on the comet’s surface and form a tail that could easily be visible in the night sky using only our naked eyes.

Of course, it could also break up and sputter out well before it gets anywhere near the inner planets of our solar system. It’s way out there in the range of Jupiter right now.

We’ll just have to wait and see, but there was a comet that passed by Earth in 1680 with a very similar path to that of Ison. That ancient comet’s tail was so bright it was said to be visible for awhile even in daylight. That would be pretty neat to see.

For right now, that really bright “star” in our evening sky is Jupiter. If you’ve got a telescope tucked away in your garage or attic, this would be a fine time to get it out and have a good look-see at our really big neighbor.

Jupiter is visible to us now almost all night long. If you stay up really late, you could get a chance to observe Saturn’s rings, but that planet doesn’t even rise over the eastern horizon until around midnight. Jupiter is a much better target for us now in January.

Pickerel Challenge

The Coastal Conservation Association of Maryland is sponsoring its second Pickerel Challenge through March 15.

Stop first at Patuxent Adventure Center on Solomons and pick up one of their special rulers and then go fishing. Should you catch a nice pickerel in the days ahead, you’ll need a photo of your catch on the approved CCA-Md. ruler.

For more information, go to and click on “Pickerel Challenge Info” at the top of the homepage.