Chesapeake Bay: Still Troubled but Improving

The health of the Chesapeake Bay has improved in nine of 13 metrics.
Key Chesapeake Bay metrics.

The health of the Chesapeake Bay has improved again this year, showing gains in nine of 13 indicators, according to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s biennial State of the Bay report. “While Virginia and Maryland are largely on track to achieve their 2017 mid-term goals of 60 percent of practices in place, Pennsylvania is significantly behind, largely due to its failure to meet the goals it set for reducing pollution from agriculture,” states the report.

Most encouraging was the recovery of the blue crab population, accompanied by gains for rockfish, oysters and shad. Nitrogen, phosphorus, and dissolved oxygen levels also improved.

Decades of effort seem to be paying off, said the report. “We believe the Bay is reaching a tipping point. … We are seeing the clearest water in decades, regrowth of acres of lush underwater grass beds, and the comeback of the Chesapeake’s native oysters, which were nearly eradicated by disease, pollution, and overfishing.”

But much work remains to be done. The overall health index for the Bay still rates a C-, and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation still classifies the Bay as “dangerously out of balance,” just shy of actually “improving.”

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16 responses to “Chesapeake Bay: Still Troubled but Improving”

  1. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    It’s a shame that this modest improvement will come to a halt thanks to Trump’s upcoming anti-environmental policies.

    1. djrippert Avatar

      My guess too. But I am still hoping to be surprised.

  2. LarrytheG Avatar

    Maybe at this point – we could hear what Libertarians would do about the Bay different from the current top-down approach… which even I disagree with because they’re using models instead of actual monitoring data to set standards for farms and urban areas.
    Libertarians approach environmental issues from a personal responsibility perspective but it’s generally painfully impractical and unworkable and starts off shifting blame to others rather than recognizing that each of us plays a role in the degradation of the Bay.

    “One reason a person becomes a Libertarian is that they recognize how government has enabled the destruction of the environment through cronyism.”

    ” Pollution of other people’s property is wrong. Strict liability, not government agencies and arbitrary standards, should regulate pollution. We advocate repeal of the laws that prevent full ownership of the air and water above and below land, thus denying individuals protection under the law against polluters. Private property rights must replace public property. We further advocate repeal of corporate limited liability laws protecting the individuals who own or manage corporations from the personal liability of pollution. ”

    the interesting thing is that they Do apparently expect the govt to operate a court system – but the laws protecting the environment would go away and be replaced by property rights and the right to sue for damages!!

    Of course then you’d get into a big discussion about whether or not nitrogen is a “real” pollutant – which the burden of proving would fall on those who claim they are damaged… and a second argument over which property owners are damaged – all of us want a clean Bay or just those who derive economic benefit.

    but then they sorta bail out on the final bullet:

    ” There will be times when externalities come into the equation and property rights alone cannot solve the issue. It is in these cases government intervention may be appropriate.”

    I’d advocate for actual measurements to assign responsibility for remediation rather than using a model alone which just further encourages a “blame others” mentality.

    For instance, in water quality below a farming area is good – as well as no worse than it was just upstream, – then leave them alone. If it is not good and the data show the degradation happens there – then work on remediation -while continuing monitoring to verify that those measures are actually working and that farm is let alone.

    We still need the modeling but it should be tied tightly to actual measurements upstream and downstream, before and after, so that we actually do address real problems that need fixing and in a cost effective way – and not penalize those whose only sin was to be a property owner on the river where a model pointed fingers and there is no real site data to back up what the model is claiming.

    I’d use this same upstream/downstream/before/after measurement protocol for urban areas and other entities that have inflows to the river – to also hold them ALL accountable. We should not be using generalized models to unfairly blame upstream farmers for what might really be an urban stormwater runoff issue and in the end – there is really little that farmers can do to overcome downstream places where thousands/hundreds of thousands of people and impervious surfaces runoff are many times as large as runoff from say a pasture with one or two cows or horses verses a farm with a thousand head of cattle or a poultry processing plant producing thousands of chickens for market every day.

    we need to have a fair and accurate system where we can show the person we are telling to remediate – actual real numbers that show he does have a share of the responsibility. We also need to do this with residential home-owners and shopping center owners when we deal with urban storm runoff and need to assess fees and taxes to pay for remediation.

    We have the GIS technology to do this now.. and we should – because putting out a report card every two years is not going to motivate people to accept their share of responsibility to pay.

    1. djrippert Avatar

      What is it about water that you don’t understand? Stand on the end of my dock and pee into Trippe Creek. Tell me how close to the dock your magical measurement device needs to be to know that the pee came from my dock. Repeat at low and high tide. During and after rainfall.

      You’d have to put so many sensors in the bay that the sensors themselves would become a pollutant.

      Geezy wheezy Aunt Louisey. Have you ever been to an industrial chicken farm? When a cow craps in a stream near the bay where do you think the waste goes? Is it all that unfair to ask the farmers to fence off the streams so their cattle don’t get too close?

  3. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    You are right. Libertarians are such dorks!

  4. Scientifically and economically justified goals are needed for the Bay. As Larry said, the progress to the goals must be from measurements, not from models. A professional environmentalist told me that the Bay must be restored to the condition it was in before man arrived. That’s a condition for which we do not know the scientific measurements. Such an idea is also implying that man’s very existence is a pollutant, as if man is not part of nature. Because many of the institutions involved in monitoring the Bay also depend for survival on the urgency of its cleanup, they are not impartial observers. Scientifically and economically justified goals are needed.

  5. LarrytheG Avatar

    Well the Report Card is calibrated so that the top is 70% to acknowledge that it can never get back to it’s original condition. That’s reasonable but what’s not is giving a “C” for 35 out of 70.

    but here is an example of how the current narrative is skewed against agriculture:

    Note that the 3 after agriculture runoff are all largely urban/suburban sources that total to the other half of the problem yet the way it is depicted encourages people to blame agriculture and fight against their own stormwater and wastewater fees.

    Nothing would be more compelling in my view than an interactive map with red, green and yellow on the rivers (and large lakes) and as one zooms in and drills down -actual nitrogen and phosphorous numbers start to appear which then allows people to really understand the situation where they live and take ownership of their share of the effort rather than blaming farmers.

    Right now, if you asked 100 people what the nutrient situation is where they live – they’d have no idea and like Mom and Apple Pie, they’d be all for cleaning up the Bay until they find out it will cost them $30 a month.

    what I’m also afraid of is that the Bay Cleanup folks are putting more of this on the Agriculture folks so that the rivers will be reduce under the limits so that when they get the urban areas and able to absorb the heavier urban area inputs. That’s why we need actual measurements… so that everyone can see the truth…

    That’s a policy issue – that if true is a recipe for failure because then the idea of transparency to get buy in from stakeholders – falls apart when the stakeholders find out they are not treated equally so I worry that’s perhaps why we don’t see actual data… on a map.

    We cannot have a policy that essentially pits the urban dwellers against the rural folks especially when most all of what rural folks produce – is actually for the city folks. Most very chicken, cow, hog and cumquat is ultimately headed to feed urban dwellers and the poop and fertilizer left behind is really more properly the responsibility of the “eaters”.

    But we should KNOW.. WHERE we need mitigation as well as how much so that we target limited resources where they will get the most bang for the buck and those costs are allocated fairly – backed up by data.

    What’s at stake – these days – is the credibility of the program itself – to demonstrate that it’s not some liberal feel good concept.

  6. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    How much money does the Chesapeake Bay Foundation raise each year? If the organization concluded the Bay was “improving,” instead of “dangerously out of balance,” what would likely happen to its fundraising efforts? I’m not arguing that any particular measurement is incorrect or even that the conclusion is wrong. But organizations don’t easily close up shop when they are successful. They often continue to search for another mission or suggest their success isn’t sufficient.

  7. This discussion has touched on lots of potential digressions.

    First, I’m in agreement with TMT, there’ve been very few bureaucracies that have declared “mission accomplished” and disbanded voluntarily, and the CBF is a big bureaucracy. And second, LG touches on how a Libertarian can be responsible for use or abuse of the commons, such as our shared air and water resources. I suspect few here agree with the “purist” Libertarian solution of strict liability for air pollution, etc. It’s theoretically sound but practically an impossibility to administer; spare me that Ayn Rand individualism! You’d have everyone in court all the time enforcing standards on each other and arguing over what the standards are or ought to be, which would be horribly inefficient, not to mention the ultimate in subjective, judge-made ‘law’. Having a legislature make written laws of general applicability (directly or through agencies) that set out the rules and how to enforce them is the common sense way to protect common resources.

    And third, as for “skewed against agriculture,” placing responsibility for agricultural pollution on the cities because city folk eat most of what is grown is a complete misallocation — of course everyone in the food chain is “responsible” for the existence of the entire chain, but that’s why we have the legal concepts of “proximate cause” and “nexus” to help decide rationally whose faulty decisions are most appropriately blamed for pollution. And fourth, let’s not let those suburbanites off the hook for “agricultural” pollution; I live adjacent to a suburban stream and every spring watch the algae bloom that comes from all the gross overfertilization of all those suburban lawns.

    And finally, when it comes to cleaning up the Bay I think there’s very little disagreement that PA (as opposed to MD and VA) is far behind — in cleaning up the Susquehanna Basin from what is, in fact, nearly all agricultural runoff pollution.

  8. LarrytheG Avatar

    generally agree with Acbar with small quibbles :

    ” And third, as for “skewed against agriculture,” placing responsibility for agricultural pollution on the cities because city folk eat most of what is grown is a complete misallocation — of course everyone in the food chain is “responsible” for the existence of the entire chain, but that’s why we have the legal concepts of “proximate cause” and “nexus” to help decide rationally whose faulty decisions are most appropriately blamed for pollution.”

    if the farmers were not producing food for the city and instead just let their land lay fallow – what would happen to the river?

    Now… I don’t think the production of food justifies practices that result in harm to the river but from a practical perspective – if the farmers used the very best practices to keep the rivers as clean as possible – what would that cost and who would end up paying for it?

    I’d say the folks who buy the food are going to pay for it as the farmers are just going to pass that cost on – just as an poultry processing plant or manufacturing plant would pass on costs of pollution abatement.

    When you as a consumer buy something – you’re an integral part of what pollution is generated in the process of providing you with that product.

    Witness the coal-plants that provide electricity to you and I… we’re remote from the plant – but we using what the plant produces AND we’re responsible for our share of what the plant is releasing into the water and air.


    so the question is – how CLEAN do you want the producer of what you consumer to be in the production of stuff you will consume?

    Do you want to pay for pristine clean or dirty nasty yuck clean or somewhere in between?

    1. djrippert Avatar

      There are a lot of relatively simple things that farmers could do to reduce runoff which many don’t do. Big Ag funds the Farm Bureau and the Farm Bureau sprays that money on the stooges in Washington. The stooges return the favor by blocking legislation that would force farmers to take small but meaningful steps.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        small scale farming can do some things but it’s not as simple as it looks.

        If you have 500 head of cattle – pooping in a pasture it’s going to migrate downhill to grassy pasture swales and then into feeder streams that may well be miles from the river itself. Do you fence off every swale in the pasture?

        some things can be done – but if everyone is not required to do it – then the ones that do – incur costs that others do not and that becomes a competitive advantage.

        the much bigger “farm” problem is CAFOs – Concentrated animal feeding operation where thousands of poultry , hogs and cattle generate poop that does not go to a treatment plant but instead usually sits in piles or is spread on fields or put into lagoons in such concentrations that when it rains it gets flushed into streams and thence into rivers.

        and again – it’s the same problem – if one company is in a state or locality with much lower requirements then other operations end up with higher costs and no way to recover them.

        this works exactly like manufacturing pollution worked back when the EPA was created. The companies would locate in states with much lower restrictions but the pollution would get into rivers and the atmosphere that ended up polluting other states.. even those with stricter rules.

        That’s part of the bees in the Farm Bureau’s bonnet – and I’m no defender of them – but they’re NEVER going to advocate for all states having the same regulations as they as opposed to regulation to start with and yes.. are pretty good at lobbying !

        I STILL think small scale farming is not a large part of the overall problem and that in the end – it’s large concentrations of people – where they live as well as what they need in the way of electricity and food – which is sited in rural areas but directly attributable to providing for the needs of people in urban areas.

        should be no surprise but too many want to blame the farmers so they won’t have to take more responsibility – to pay – for pollution abatement.

        How many urban dwellers really care about how much mercury is released ? How many care about some poultry processing plant and the poultry farms that surround it on the North Fork of the Shenandoah pouring millions of pounds of poop and other stuff like hormones into the river there – that then flows down to Washington that then essentially doubles the effluent – this time in the form of sewage, pet feces, and lawn fertilizer?

        No one really wants to take ownership of the problem much less pay to fix it… so CBF is reduced to “report cards” in hopes that over time – people will start to see the link and be convinced to take ownership.

        I support CBF’s goals but I think they have to measure the pollution and put that data in front of people rather than try to “interpret” with models.

  9. djrippert Avatar

    The underwater grasses are the key to this whole shooting match. Get enough grass cover and you knock down the sediment. Knock down the sediment and you end the algae blooms and hypoxia. Re-oxygenate the water and the oysters recover. Recovered oysters filter 50 gallons of bay water per day, including nitrogen pollution (the only pollution indicator to earn an “F”).

    Of course, it’s a cycle. The grasses don’t grow because the sediment and algae block the sunlight so the oyster larvae die so the filtering doesn’t happen and the grasses don’t grow … Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

    What most people don’t realize is that the Chesapeake Bay’s waters were clear for the vast majority of its existence. Think Caribbean clear. One colonial era narrative claimed that in water “chin deep” you could see a pin on the bottom.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      I think you’re close to the truth of it and I’m afraid the clarity of the Bay is more dependent on weather than our efforts which are not near enough to counteract a year with a few heavy duty floods which we are likely to see more of in the coming years.

      I recall that in recent years the bay was more clear than many other years – and that year was a drought and major sediment runoff was non existent.

      We’re doing much better with NEW storm ponds but the problem is the older completely built-out areas that did not have storm ponds as well as street drains that go to wastewater treatment plants and when it rains, those places just tear the hell out of the feeder creeks and turn them Chocolate brown and the wastewater treatment plants are just overwhelmed and they not only dump the sediment but it full of raw sewage.

      It’s referred to as Combined Sewer Overflows and it originates upstream throughout many sewer systems and is called Infiltration/Inflow – water flows from impervious surfaces, into the streets into the gutters thence to the sewage treatment plant which hold as much as it can and dumps the rest.

      the only way to fix them is to build regional storm ponds and combined sewer overflow holding tunnels.. and underground storage.

      I’m convinced that an overflowing wastewater treatment plant that receives sewage from millions of people is far more damaging than any farm field for a given heavy storm event. These millions of gallons of sewage coat the river bottom all the way to the Bay… and when we have a major flood – dozens, hundreds of similar aged wastewater treatment plants dump their loads because most are older and were never designed to hold back sewage during floods.. they were actually explicitly designed to dump when that happened. If they did not do that, it would destroy the facility.

      here’s a recent article on the Wash Area :

      As overflows continue, D.C. plan for sewage tunnels getting messy

  10. LarrytheG Avatar

    In the end – people – have to be given the facts and data and to make up their own minds … they cannot be given some narrative that “interprets” or “explains” the data and that includes modelling without data to support it.

    we’ll never engage and motivate people to take ownership of their part of the problem – if they don’t know what it is and is not.

    Right now – we have a heavy “feel good” process… for those who think they are environmentally responsible where even those folks really don’t know serious facts.. they’re just supporting a generic support of the environment.

    Folks that are skeptics or not convinced – that same narrative – can actually push them further away…

    everyone must be give the unvarnished data or they’ll end up like our friend TMT who simply does not trust them nor the process.

    Once they do have the data – they can then legitimately argue the pros and cons of policy but until we do that, – we’ll just end up with folks choosing sides and digging in and neither side really knows the facts… it just devolves into a political contest.

  11. […] are several news accounts on the report for 2016: Chesapeake Bay: Still Troubled but Improving, Bacon’s Rebellion, 1/5/17. Bay foundation gives Chesapeake health a C-minus, its highest […]

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