Heavy rains and a hot summer harmed the Chesapeake Bay's health last year, earning it the second worst grade on a yearly report card issued Tuesday by the University of Maryland's Center for Environmental Science. The center gave the bay a D+ in 2011, scoring only slightly better than in 2003, the worst year for bay health since the assessments began in 1986. Heavy spring and fall rains washed pollutants and sediments into the bay, and a hot, dry summer spurred algae blooms that lower oxygen levels.Last year I wrote a pretty big missive on this annual non-event, including a couple of cuties. I won't bother again this year. I find the process slightly amusing. Each year, the numbers come out, and the results bob up and down, depending largely on the vagaries of weather. This year the Bay took a pretty big hit from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee, as well as other storm systems, which resulted in degraded conditions. Mankind has very little to do with these variations, although we played a critical role in setting up the conditions to be affected by the weather.
Flood waters from Tropical Storm Lee brought up to an inch and a half of sediment into the upper bay. Water clarity, meanwhile, continued to decline along with losses in bay grasses. Only two regions — the lower western shore of the bay, which got a C, and the Patapsco and Back Rivers improved, but still got a D-. The rest declined or remained the same.
Virginia's Rappahannock, for example, went from a C- to a D+ as grasses suffered significant declines. The Potomac River remained at a D, suffering declines in water quality but not enough to change its grade. The Patuxent and Elizabeth rivers received failing grades. The failing grade was the first for the Elizabeth, which has been polluted by industry and shipyards, and scored a grade of 0 for three indicators.
Last spring, the bay got 42 out of 100 possible points, down from 46 the year before and the first drop in four years.
These scores are largely a plea for attention by the bodies that issue them, and not a useful metric of how the Bay restoration effort is working. No scientist or manager I know goes to work thinking "The Bay got a D+ this year instead of a C-, what can I do today to fix that?"
Now, about those cuties:
|She obviously needs fishing lessons...|
|Well, it could be the Bay|