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Browse History: Overview (2007)

Chesapeake Bay - Overview:



Synopsis


Report Card Cover
Bay Health Index
Benthic Index of Biotic Integrity Icon
42%
C-
Overall grade for Chesapeake Bay: C-
  • Slight improvement compared to 2006 (39); health remained in moderate-poor condition
  • Overall bay health has increased slightly since a record low in 2003, largely driven by improvements in phytoplankton community and chlorophyll a scores.

Bay health remained in poor condition in most regions
The health scores were generally poor in 2007, but did vary from region to region. With some exceptions, the regions in the middle of the Bay scored worse than the upper and lower regions.

An overall improvement compared to 2006
Bay health in many regions improved in 2007 compared to 2006. The most improved regions were the Upper Western Shore and Choptank River. Improved health may be due in part to the summer drought conditions.

Summer drought
Record low rainfall occurred in many regions of the Chesapeake Bay watershed this past summer. The summer drought led to lower–than–average levels of sediment and nutrients flowing into the Bay from June to September. However, annual nitrogen loads were similar to the long–term (1990–2007) average due to slightly higher winter and spring flow conditions.

Slight improvement in aquatic grasses
The area covered by aquatic grasses increased in many regions of the Bay in 2007. The largest percent increase occurred in the Upper Bay and Upper Western Shore regions. Decreases did occur in some regions, including the Patuxent River, Lower Western Shore, and Upper Eastern Shore regions.

Continued poor water clarity
Overall, water clarity improved slightly in 2007, with the highest score since 2002. However, the slight improvement did not reverse the downward trajectory of baywide water clarity. The reasons for the baywide water clarity decline are under investigation.

Harmful algal blooms and fish kills
Numerous harmful algal blooms were recorded around the Bay in 2007, mostly in the Potomac River, Lower Western Shore (MD), and Patapsco and Back Rivers regions. Many of the blooms led to fish kills due to algal toxins and/or depleted dissolved oxygen levels caused by the decaying algal blooms.

Health Index Map

This map shows the Bay Health Index for all reporting regions. You can also access individual reporting region summary pages by clicking on them, or mousing over for quick summaries.

Estuary Selection MapOverall BayLower BayUpper BayYork RiverElizabeth RiverJames RiverRappahannock RiverLower Eastern Shore (Tangier)Mid BayPotomac RiverPatuxent RiverChoptank RiverUpper Eastern ShoreLower Western Shore (MD)Patapsco and Back RiversUpper Western ShoreMid Bay

 

Region Rankings

Bay slightly healthier in 2007 compared to 2006

Overall health was slightly better in 2007 compared to 2006, increasing from a score of 39%* to 42%, which is rated moderate-poor. This small improvement was largely due to improved water clarity, phytoplankton community, and aquatic grasses scores, leading to reporting region scores that were higher in 2007 than in 2006. However, these improvements did not occur everywhere, with some regions of the Bay having decreased health, such as the York River, Patuxent River, and Lower Eastern Shore. The most improved regions in 2007 were the Upper Western Shore and Choptank River. Improvements in these regions resulted in the Upper Western Shore becoming the top-ranked region in 2007, with a score of 65% or "B", and the Choptank River increasing from 21 (second worst) in 2006 to 37 in 2007. Improved scores in 2007 may in part be due to summer drought conditions, which resulted in less nutrients and sediments entering the Bay at a critical time of the year. While restoration efforts continued in earnest during 2007, it will only be possible to determine if they are having an effect through continued monitoring and assessment.

*A slightly revised score from the report last year due to an updated, more comprehensive assessment of some indicators. Last year's reported BHI score was 37%.

This table shows the Water Quality Index, Biotic Index and the overall Bay Health Index for all reporting regions. Mouseover the index values to see the values of the component indicators/indices. You can also access individual reporting region summary pages by clicking on their name, or indicator details by clicking on their icons.



Score Legend
Upper Western ShoreUpper BayLower BayJames RiverOverall BayChoptank RiverPotomac RiverMid BayRappahannock RiverLower Eastern Shore (Tangier)Upper Eastern ShorePatapsco and Back RiversYork RiverLower Western Shore (MD)Patuxent River Elizabeth River
Water Quality IndexChlorophyll a Dissolved Oxygen Water Clarity 555237514049423938424119272327 30
Biotic IndexAquatic Grasses Benthic Index of Biotic Integrity Phytoplankton Index of Biotic Integrity 716755364425323333262432221813 Insufficient Data
Bay Health Index635946444237373636343326242020 23*

 *Average of only four indicators

Excel Spreadsheet

Region Summaries

Listed in order of Bay Health Index from best to worst. You can access more detailed information on each reporting region by click on the region names.

Score Legend

RegionScore (%)Comments
Upper Western Shore
63
B-
Top-ranked grade: B
  • A large improvement compared to 2006 score (38) due to improved aquatic grasses, benthic community, and chlorophyll a conditions.
  • Health of this region tends to vary greatly between years.
Upper Bay
59
C+
Top-ranked grade: C+
  • Slight improvement from 2006 (56), leading to one of the highest recorded scores.
  • Water clarity continued to recover after record low in 2003.
Lower Bay
46
C
Mid-ranked grade: C
  • Slight improvement compared to 2006 (44); health remained in moderate condition.
  • Chlorophyll a and water clarity remain very poor for the fifth year in a row.
James River
44
C-
Mid-ranked grade: C-
  • Similar score to 2006 (45) and remained in moderate condition.
  • Aquatic grasses continued to recover, with the highest score reported in 2007.
Overall Bay
42
C-
Overall grade for Chesapeake Bay: C-
  • Slight improvement compared to 2006 (39); health remained in moderate-poor condition
  • Overall bay health has increased slightly since a record low in 2003, largely driven by improvements in phytoplankton community and chlorophyll a scores.
Choptank River
37
D+
Mid-ranked grade: D+
  • Large improvement compared to 2006 score (21), but health remained in poor condition.
  • Health of this region is variable, showing some large changes between years.
Potomac River
37
D+
Mid-ranked grade: D+
  • Small improvement compared to 2006 score (35); health remained in poor condition.
  • Aquatic grasses continued to expand but water clarity remained very poor for the fifth year in a row.
Mid Bay
36
D+
Mid-ranked grade: D+
  • Slight improvement compared to 2006 score (34); health remained in poor condition.
  • Water clarity and chlorophyll a scores have declined over the past two decades.
Rappahannock River
36
D+
Mid-ranked grade: D+
  • Similar overall score as 2006 (34); health remained in poor condition.
  • Chlorophyll a and water clarity scores have been declining over the past two decades.
Lower Eastern Shore (Tangier)
34
D
Mid-ranked grade: D
  • Decreased health compared to 2006 (45), leading to one of the lowest recorded scores.
  • Decreased chlorophyll a, water clarity, and benthic community scores.
Upper Eastern Shore
33
D
Mid-ranked grade: D
  • Similar score to 2006 (35); health remained in poor condition.
  • Benthic community and aquatic grasses scores declined for the third year in a row.
Patapsco and Back Rivers
26
D
Bottom-ranked grade: D
  • Slight improvement compared to 2006 score (13), mostly due to a better benthic community score.
  • Water quality in this region has been consistently poor over the past two decades of monitoring.
York River
24
D-
Bottom-ranked grade: D-
  • Slight decrease compared to 2006 score (28), leading to lowest score since 1991.
  • Recent declines in chlorophyll a, aquatic grasses, and benthic community scores recorded.
Lower Western Shore (MD)
20
D-
Bottom-ranked grade: D-
  • Similar overall score as 2006 (21); health remained in poor condition.
  • The lowest–ever benthic community score and second consecutive year of aquatic grasses loss.
Patuxent River
20
D-
Bottom-ranked grade: D-
  • Slight decrease compared to 2006 score (23); health remained in poor condition.
  • Worst chlorophyll a score recorded and aquatic grasses have declined in recent years.
Elizabeth River
23
*
Incomplete assessment (*score based on average of 4 indicators)
  • Improved dissolved oxygen compared to 2006.
  • Worse scores for phytoplankton community and chlorophyll a compared to 2006.

Comparison


Comparison of Bay Health Index scores for 2007 () compared to
()


 Score (%)
 0               20               40               60               80              100
  
Upper Western Shore  
Upper Bay  
Lower Bay  
James River  
Overall Bay  
Choptank River  
Potomac River  
Mid Bay  
Rappahannock River  
Lower Eastern Shore (Tangier)  
Upper Eastern Shore  
Patapsco and Back Rivers  
York River  
Elizabeth River  
Lower Western Shore (MD)  
Patuxent River  

Score Legend

Background


Report Card NewsletterPDF Icon
Chesapeake Bay 2007: Land use and the Chesapeake Bay report card
The report card aims to inform citizens on the progress Chesapeake Bay is making toward becoming a healthy ecosystem. This year's report card shows that the health of the Bay improved slightly in 2007 when compared to 2006. While the overall health of the Bay and most regions of the Bay improved, the health of some regions of the Bay declined. This newsletter also explores some of the long-term changes in report card scores, making a connection between the scores and influencing factors such as land use and nutrient loads.

Getting to the source of the problem

It is well understood that excessive nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediments are major causes of Chesapeake Bay's poor health condition. To help reduce the amount of these pollutants entering the Bay, it is important to determine their sources, so that restoration efforts can be targeted for maximum effect. One of the tools used to estimate pollutant sources and loads and the effectiveness of best management practices (BMPs) is the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Model. This model estimates loads for a variety of land use types, based on factors such as BMP assumptions, average hydrology, vegetation cover, and point source nutrient loads. A simple assessment of the modeled nitrogen load estimates illustrates that the largest contributors are the Susquehanna, Potomac, and James Rivers, mainly due to the fact that these rivers have the largest watersheds. The main sources of nitrogen within each of the regions vary significantly. Agriculture is estimated to be the main source of nitrogen in the Eastern Shore regions, while point sources (wastewater) are the main factors in the James River and Patapsco and Back Rivers regions. The different primary nitrogen sources and the Bay health scores highlight the need for targeted implementation of best management practices. While the figure below provides a modeled estimate of nitrogen into each of the report card regions, it does not account for mixing or transport of nutrients from one region (e.g., the mainstem Bay) to another (e.g., a tributary such as the Patuxent River).

Estimated total nitrogen loads for 13 watersheds/regions in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed and the 2007 Bay Health Index for the 15 reporting regions.

Data: The Chesapeake Bay Watershed Model, Phase 4.3, 2007 Progress Run was used to estimate total nitrogen and phosphorus loads to Chesapeake Bay. Estimates for wastewater based on measured discharges; other categories based on average hydrology and current BMP efficiency assumptions. Does not include contributions from direct atmospheric deposition to tidal waters, tidal shoreline erosion, or the ocean.


Linking land use to Bay health

The Bay Health Index (BHI) provides a broad-level approach to assess the connection between land use and Bay condition. Land use within each of the watersheds is compared with the health of the adjacent waterway. In general, the higher the proportion of agricultural and developed land relative to forested land, the lower the BHI. This approach does not account for pollutants from other sources, such as coastal erosion or transport from adjacent waterways, but the strong correlation suggests that watershed activities in each region highly influence the BHI of the corresponding waterway. This relationship provides a useful framework from which the effects of land use change and best management practice (BMP) implementation can be viewed. Theoretically, if land use (% development and agriculture) stays the same, and the implementation of urban and agricultural best management practices is increased, then the health of the Bay will improve. Conversely, if BMPs were to decrease, then we can expect the health of the Bay to deteriorate. Additionally, if BMPs stay the same and land use (area % development and agriculture) changes, then the health of the Bay will also respond. This is an oversimplification of these relationships, but still serves as a good conceptual framework. An example of this oversimplification can be seen when looking at the effects of land use change from agriculture to developed land. Developed land (including urban run-off and partial treatment of human waste) within the Chesapeake watershed generates on average a total of 14.8 pounds of nitrogen per acre compared with the average agricultural rate of 11.71. Based on these numbers, a shift toward developed land at the expense of agricultural land will lead to increased nutrient loads unless urban BMPs can keep up with land use change — a factor not captured by the relationship shown.

The average Bay Health Index decreases with increasing conversion of forested lands to agriculture and urban development.


Estimated total nitrogen loads for 13 watersheds/regions in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.

Data: Chesapeake Bay Watershed Model, Phase 4.3.


Best Management Practices

There are literally hundreds of Best Management Practices (BMPs) that target reduction of nutrient and sediment loads to Chesapeake Bay. These may be as simple as individuals fertilizing their lawn during the recommended time of the year (fall), to large and expensive engineering exercises such as upgrading municipal wastewater treatment plants. Here are some of the most important and some of the new BMPs being undertaken in agriculture and urban areas.

BMP Conceptual Diagram

Agricultural BMPs

A. Cover crops - Non-harvested cereal cover crop specifically planted in fall for nutrient removal. Cereal cover crops reduce erosion and the leaching of nutrients to groundwater by maintaining a vegetative cover on cropland and holding nutrients within the root zone during the non-growing cash crop season (winter).
B. Riparian buffers - Up to 100-foot-wide buffer of grass, non-woody, or woody (forest) vegetation between crop and waterway. A 100-foot-wide strip of grass buffer can reduce sediment significantly. Fencing to exclude farm animals, although not a riparian buffer, can help slow the erosion of streamside soil.
C. Animal manure management - Animal farming uses directed flows to better contain waste products from animal houses. Lagoons, ponds, steel or concrete tanks, and storage sheds are used for the treatment and/or storage of wastes.

Urban BMPs

D. Septic upgrades - Septic denitrification represents the replacement of traditional septic systems with more advanced systems that have additional nitrogen removal capabilities. Septic connections/hookups represent the replacement of traditional septic systems with connection to and treatment at wastewater treatment plants.
E. Stormwater management control - Includes rain gardens (which direct flow from impervious surfaces to a vegetated area before the water reaches the storm drain), green roofs (which use the rainwater hitting the roof to feed plants), and riparian buffers. Filtering practices capture and temporarily store the water quality volume and pass it through a filter of sand, organic matter, and vegetation, promoting pollutant treatment and recharge.
F. Enhanced nutrient removal - Wastewater treatment plants are being upgraded to enhanced nutrient removal, which uses the most efficient removal process available, before the water is discharged into local waterways.