Treasure the Chesapeake

January 19, 2018

Treasure the ChesapeakeIn 2010, the Chesapeake Bay received a D+ report card rating. Why such a low rating? How can you help save the bay?

Heather Hooper from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) offered suggestions at a UMB Go Green-sponsored sustainability workshop in November.

Hooper discussed the CBF’s annual State of the Bay Report, which is compiled every two years based on extensive scientific analysis and covers three main categories: pollution, habitat, and fisheries. In the latest report, Hooper says, the state of the bay is “dangerously out of balance.”

The Chesapeake Bay watershed is 64,000 square miles, which includes six states and more than 17 million people. The CBF report compares the health of the bay to its perfect state at the beginning of the 17th century (1600), based on detailed descriptions from John Smith’s voyages. Hooper says a saved and healthy bay only needs a “C” rating to better take care of itself. 

Two big components of pollution are the level of nitrogen and phosphorus in the water. These levels have increased over the past few years because of stormwater runoff and are partly responsible for the recent fish kills in the harbor this past spring and summer. Other signs of pollution include water clarity, dangerously low levels of dissolved oxygen or “dead zones,” and toxic hotspots.

But to reduce the amount of pollutants in the bay, we must first look at how we’re treating our habitat, Hooper says. Stormwater management is one way to reduce the amount of litter and toxins that flow into the bay. Ways you can reduce its effects include using rain barrels, using alternative methods to pesticides, disposing properly of household chemicals, and picking up trash. CBF also looks at the following areas of habitat: forested buffers, wetlands, underwater grasses, and resource lands.

In addition to pollution and habitat, Hooper says wildlife is important for the bay’s recovery. For example, an adult oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water per day. Even though oysters received an F on this last report card, Hooper says more than a billion oysters were planted since 2008, so their numbers should be increasing.

Oysters aren’t the only ones benefitting from bay recovery initiatives — Hooper says thanks to Maryland and Virginia working together to regulate crabbing, the blue crab population has more than doubled since 2008. Other wildlife discussed was rockfish and shad.

The healthier the animals are, the healthier the bay is, and the healthier we are, Hooper says. “I’m looking at all of you to be advocates,” he says.

In an effort to enforce the Clean Water Act, CBF has been working with the EPA to establish a pollution diet for the bay called a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), Hooper says. In conjunction with this effort, the EPA requires each state to establish pollution-reduction plans or Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs). For more information on the Clean Water Act, including TMDLs and WIPs, visit CBF

“It’s up to us to pressure our representatives to make sure this happens,” Hooper says. “It’s also important to share this information with others. We believe it’s worth the fight."

— Tracy Gnadinger

Volunteer With the Chesapeake Bay Foundation

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