The Chesapeake Bay notched a C on its latest report card from the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, released Tuesday at an event in Alexandria, Virginia.
The latest report card, a periodic endeavor for the University of Maryland center and other local environmental groups like the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, shows a slight improvement from the past few years, but it comes amid an uncertain period for bay restoration.
There is broad agreement that the states surrounding the Chesapeake Bay are unlikely to meet a 2025 deadline to significantly curtail the amount of harmful nutrients they send into the nation’s largest estuary. Officials at the Chesapeake Bay Program, which is at the helm of the 2025 pact, are working to modify the timeline.
At Tuesday’s event on Daingerfield Island, Sen. Chris Van Hollen likened the effort to restore the Chesapeake to “trying to run up an escalator that is going down,” amid development pressures and climate change.
A report released last month by the Bay Program’s scientific advisory committee described how the bay’s ecosystem has been slow to respond to the reductions in nutrient and sediment pollution that have been realized so far, particularly in the bay’s deeper channels.
A similar picture has been painted by years worth of different bay report cards with middling scores. The most recent biennial report card from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation handed the estuary a D+ for the third time in a row.
The University of Maryland center’s report for 2022 gave the bay a 51%, which is considered a C. It’s a one percentage point increase relative to 2021, though the score has increased six percentage points in the past two years. Any score between 80% and 100% would be considered an A by the center’s report.
It is tabulated using a set of key barometers of the bay’s water quality, including the levels of dissolved oxygen, aquatic grasses and nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus. Those nutrients have been a major focus on the restoration. Left unchecked, they stimulate the growth of algae, which sucks oxygen from the water as it decomposes, dealing a significant blow to bay life.
Bill Dennison, vice president for science application at the University of Maryland center, emphasized the improving trajectory in the bay’s scores over the past few years.
“We are in the right direction,” Dennison said. “We just need to run up that escalator a little faster,” he said.
As nutrient levels have declined, improving the bay’s diet, its health metrics, such as dissolved oxygen and water clarity haven’t improved at a commensurate rate, according to the Bay Program’s May report.
Like I always told my mother when report cards came out, "Hey, a C is average, that's good enough isn't it?"