Chesapeake Bay's water quality condition has been recovering: Insights from a multimetric indicator assessment of thirty years of tidal monitoring data
To protect the aquatic living resources of Chesapeake Bay, the Chesapeake Bay Program partnership has developed guidance for state water quality standards, which include ambient water quality criteria to protect designated uses (DUs), and associated assessment procedures for dissolved oxygen (DO), water clarity/underwater bay grasses, and chlorophyll-a. For measuring progress toward meeting the respective states' water quality standards, a multimetric attainment indicator approach was developed to estimate combined standards attainment. We applied this approach to three decades of monitoring data of DO, water clarity/underwater bay grasses, and chlorophyll-a data on annually updated moving 3-year periods to track the progress in all 92 management segments of tidal waters in Chesapeake Bay. In 2014–2016, 40% of tidal water segment-DU-criterion combinations in the Bay (n = 291) are estimated to meet thresholds for attainment of their water quality criteria. This index score marks the best 3-year status in the entire record. Since 1985–1987, the indicator has followed a nonlinear trajectory, consistent with impacts from extreme weather events and subsequent recoveries. Over the period of record (1985–2016), the indicator exhibited a positive and statistically significant trend (p b 0.05), indicating that the Bay has been recovering since 1985. Patterns of attainment of individual DUs are variable, but improvements in open water DO, deep channel DO, and water clarity/submerged aquatic vegetation have combined to drive the improvement in the Baywide indicator in 2014–2016 relative to its long-term median. Finally, the improvement in estimated Baywide attainment was statistically linked to the decline of total nitrogen, indicating responsiveness of attainment status to the reduction of nutrient load through various management actions since at least the 1980s.
Keywords: Chesapeake Bay, Water quality standards, Trends, Dissolved oxygen, Chlorophyll-a, Monitoring, assessment