The water quality of the Chesapeake Bay was reported to be the cleanest since testing began in 1985, reaching a record high of 42 percent of bay water meeting clean water standards between 2015 and 2017, the Chesapeake Bay Program announced this week.
The regional partnership attributed the improvements largely to reductions in algae growth and increases in underwater grass abundance and dissolved oxygen in the open waters of the bay.
As a key indicator of the bay’s health, the bay’s water quality has been monitored since 1985. New research published by the bay program described the trends seen in the water quality of the bay “positive and statistically significant,” according to a release from the organization.
The bay program said the findings show that the bay is resilient, and recovery efforts invested by various partners to reduce nutrient and sediment pollution are working.
While there’s cause to celebrate, bay experts also noted the reality that 58 percent of tidal waters are still considered impaired and the impact of last year’s record rainfall remains to be seen.
Heavy rain not only leads to high river flows and heavy flooding, as it did last year, it also washes a large amount of fresh water into the bay, bringing more sediments and nutrients into bay waters.
“I’m pretty confident to say that 2018 will not be a continuation of that positive trend,” Jeremy Testa, assistant professor at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science’s Chesapeake Biological Laboratory in Solomons, said by phone Wednesday.
In local waterways like the Patuxent River, Testa said there have already been indicators that may suggest water quality declined last year. Underwater grass, for example, was not as robust as it was in 2017.
“In 2017, a lot of sea grass emerged in areas we had not seen,” he said. “Some of those beds did not come back” last year.
Testa said the likely culprit could be higher nutrient concentration in the water, which is tied to high precipitation that generally washes more nutrients into the bay.
Despite the likely bad news, Testa said the year 2018 may be the first test on the resiliency of the bay after years of restoration efforts.
“Part of the restoration is to get the bay into a position where the bay will be resilient to unpredictable weather events,” Testa said.
“Improvements in water quality take time, but we are finally seeing a positive response to the many restoration efforts of our partners,” Dinorah Dalmasy from the Maryland Department of the Environment said in a press release.
“While we have made a lot of progress, there’s still a lot more work to do to achieve that 100 percent water quality attainment.”
For more information, visit www.chesapeakeprogress.com/clean-water/water-quality.