Report: Chesapeake Bay health improves, but long way to go

BALTIMORE (AP) — Boosted by stronger fish populations, the overall health of the Chesapeake Bay improved some last year, but Monday’s annual report card for the nation’s largest estuary says there is still a long way to go.

Scientists at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science gave the bay an overall score of 54 percent in the 2016 Chesapeake Bay Health Index, compared to 53 percent in 2015 and 50 percent in 2014. They are giving the bay’s health a “C” grade overall.

“Much of what’s now better in the Chesapeake Bay has been made possible because the federal government has been a strong and stable partner,” Sen. Ben Cardin said. “But the gains in the bay’s health will disappear quickly if the federal government vacillates in its commitment to the nation’s largest estuary.”

The Chesapeake Bay Program is a long-running federal-state partnership to clean up the bay.

The Maryland Democrat noted that Congress rejected the recently proposed cuts in federal funding to the Chesapeake Bay Program and related efforts. Still, Cardin said it’s a reminder that elected officials in the bay’s watershed must keep working together to ensure the government’s dedication to the bay continues.

Striped bass led the way in lifting the grade with a perfect score, followed by blue crabs and bay anchovies. All received A grades.

The report also noted improvements in seven of the bay’s regions, led by the Patapsco and Back Rivers, Patuxent River and the Lower Eastern Shore. The report cited factors including several years of moderate weather, sewage treatment upgrades and more use of cover crops by farmers.

“These scientifically rigorous report card results are telling us that we are indeed heading in the right direction,” said Bill Dennison, vice president for Science Application at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.

“We still have a long way to go to fully restoring the bay, so we need to have our diverse partnership of people and organizations continue to work together to reduce the runoff of sediments and nutrients into the bay,” he said.

Most of the indicators factored into the Chesapeake Bay health index remained steady last year, the report found. The total area of the bay covered by aquatic grasses increased. That’s one of the bay’s most important habitats, providing a home for important species including blue crabs and striped bass.

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.